The chance to live a good life is fading away for too many people in the north of England, a leading think tank has said.

Decent jobs, wages and opportunities are becoming increasingly unattainable across the region according to the State Of The North 2020 annual report from the Institute of Public Policy North (IPPR North).

The authors say the UK entered a global pandemic with deep, growing divides between and within regions caused by decades of centralisation and 10 years of austerity.

And the Covid-19 pandemic makes the challenge of reducing regional inequalities even greater and more urgent than before, the report adds.

The North is now experiencing levels of unemployment not seen for a quarter of a century, especially concentrated in northern cities and coastal towns, with Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Hull, currently under tier 3 restrictions, among the worst affected.

The report also highlights:

l There are fewer job opportunities in the North compared to the rest of England;

l Median wages in the North are lower than England as a whole with five million northern workers paid less than the real living wage;

l Gender and ethnicity pay gaps are wider in the North than elsewhere in the UK;

l 40% of women who work in the North are paid less than the real living wage;

l Rates of child poverty are higher, with healthy life expectancy lower than across England.

Last year’s general election saw the Tory party win over a swathe of former Labour seats in the North afer promising to “level up”. It came after regional development agencies were set up by Labour in 1998, then abolished under the coalition government in 2012, and central government blowing hot and cold over the Northern Powerhouse agenda pushed by former chancellor George Osborne.

Last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £4bn “Levelling Up Fund” and reforms in the way the Treasury assesses the value for money of big infrastructure spending projects to remove a long-standing bias against funding in northern England and other regions.

Director of IPPR North Sarah Longlands said successive governments of all colours have failed the North in the past. She said: “There’s a warning for all governments in the future, if you want to help the North you need to start dealing with inequalities. The Government was elected on a promise to ‘level up’ places like the North.

“But one year on, they don’t have a plan to reduce inequalities between and within regions in England, and the inadequate, centrally controlled, competitive ‘levelling up fund’ announced in the spending review simply won’t cut it.

“We need to challenge old, reductive assumptions about our economy because they’ve failed to create the conditions for a good life for everyone in the North. In particular, we have to stop assuming that the centre knows best and commit once and for all to a clear programme of regional devolution in England.

“This is a wake-up call. Is the Government listening?”

The report suggests key tests to measure the progress of any initiative to “level up”, including living standards, better pay, more jobs and opportunities and better democratic representation.