Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Brass numbers

Some peculiar spin on a new Barclays "white paper" on the national distribution of the wealthiest individuals. The document notes:
We can also examine wealth on an aggregated county level, which again shows that London reigns supreme as the hub of the UK’s wealth. However, the list of the top 10 counties still presents a couple of surprises, including Yorkshire where people are better known for taking caution with their money.

Newspaper reports tended to follow that line, with the Yorkshire Post, for example, reckoning:
areas traditionally seen as less affluent have also made it into the map's top 10, with Yorkshire in third place at 6.1 per cent and Lancashire in sixth (3.8 per cent) behind home counties Surrey (5.8 per cent) and Middlesex (4.8 per cent).

While the Guardian today asks:
Why is Yorkshire so wealthy?
There is a branch of Greggs the bakers at Leeds-Bradford airport. The very presence of competitively priced sandwiches and pies in the vicinity of international flights carries a powerful subtext: "Four-quid sarnies and little boxes of sushi may be all right for them flash buggers flying from Manchester, but here in Yorkshire we like to look after our brass."
Ask any of the paupers in Surrey, Middlesex and Lancashire, lorded over by Yorkshire in the wealth league table, and they will undoubtedly say it is because Yorkshire people never spend any of the damn stuff.

Such stereotyped comment may or may not be entirely fair (I'll keep my penn'orth on that safe in my pocket), but the Barclays statistics hardly require such ponderings. Yorkshire is a big bloody county - in all, about 5 million people, 8.3% of the total UK population, about the same as Scotland. With just 6.1% of the "country's wealthiest people", we're actually punching below our weight in rich buggers. Not so much of a story there, really.

The real question isn't so much "Why is Yorkshire so wealthy?", but 'Why do the critical faculties of so many journalists fall apart when faced with some basic statistics?"

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