'It's Collective Punishment' – People in the North on Their Tier 3 Lockdown

"We haven't been able to go into anyone's house since July.”
London, GB
A couple walk along Newcastle quayside​.
A couple walk along Newcastle quayside. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The UK government announced that on Thursday that large swathes of the country will enter Tier 3 restrictions after the national lockdown lifts on the 2nd of December.

The “very high alert” category will mean tight restrictions on how people can socialise and further damage to regional economies, many of which have already been ravaged by the pandemic. The decision has already proved controversial, with many interpreting it as an attack by the Tories on the North of England.


Of course, this could simply be what the situation requires from a public health standpoint. In Greater Manchester, the current rate of transmission – defined as the number of new cases for every 100,000 people – stands at 265.7. The current England rate is 218.4, while the rate in London is 181.8 cases per 1000,000 people. And lots of Northern cities, including Liverpool and York, have escaped Tier 3, while other cities in the South, like Bristol, haven’t.

But not everyone in the North and North East is convinced that Tier 3 is motivated purely by science. We spoke to some people in Tier 3 areas to find out what they think about the new tiers.

Alex Niven

“I think the North East and most other Northern areas being put into Tier 3 underlines how talk of the Tories’ dedication to keeping the Red Wall [a term for the group of traditionally Labour constituencies in the North that voted Tory in 2019] has been overstated,” says Alex Niven, the Newcastle-based author of New Model Island, which argues for the break-up of the United Kingdom.

“They would certainly like to hang onto their new seats in the North, but they’re still overwhelmingly a party built on the economic fate of London and the South East,” he says. “This means there’s a limit to what they can sacrifice for the sake of the Northern economy, whereas they’ve clearly bent over backwards to rescue business in London by putting it in Tier 2. I think they’ve calculated that they can probably stay in power even if they lose a chunk of the Red Wall.”


The Tier 3 announcement, according to Alex, indicates Conservative Party willingness to abandon efforts to appeal to Northern voters, something that was much-hyped in the aftermath of last year’s election. “It’s as if they’ve thought, ‘So what if a few small businesses in Newcastle close? The main thing is the City, the big offices, the headquarters in the South.’”

Manchester father of one John*, who requested anonymity due to his government job, believes that the Tier 3 regulations aren’t just motivated by public health concerns.

“It obviously looks like a political decision, not a scientific one. It’s collective punishment for the refusal to go quietly into a stricter local lockdown last time around,” he says. “I think people outside Manchester forget that, thanks to the local lockdown, we haven't been able to go into anyone's house since July. Children haven't been allowed to play indoors with their friends for almost the whole year.”

John is worried that about the effects on the economy and the impact the pandemic is already having on people’s mental health. “There should be some attempt to ameliorate this by helping people socialise safely in small groups,” he suggests. Unfortunately, Tier 3 rules state that people cannot meet up indoors with anybody not in their household or support bubble.

Edie Miller

Edie Miller: "It can certainly feel like the lockdown measures in place are there to benefit someone else." Photo: courtesy of Edie Miller

Manchester housing activist Beth Redmond says: “I don’t think it’s a reach to say it seems like calculated revenge for ‘Burnham-mania’”, the public enthusiasm for the Manchester mayor’s attempts to take on the government over the measures imposed on the city.


She added: “The Tories have a clear history of punishing cities who work against them –Liverpool in the past, for instance – and [from] the correspondence Matt Hancock has put out over the last few days, he's not been subtle about still being angry with [Andy] Burnham.”

When announcing the new tier measures on Thursday, the Health Secretary said in what has been interpreted as a thinly-veiled swipe at Burnham: “Unfortunately, we did see the impact on cases continuing to go up in those areas where local leaders were not working alongside us.”

Beth says: “I think some of the reactions you can see on Twitter, such as people grumbling ‘cheers Burnham!’ sarcastically or whatever, makes it clear that this is at least partly an attempt to show the general public what happens if you kick up a fuss.”

Like John, Beth is frustrated by the length of time that Manchester has been subject to tight restrictions. “If it's the case that none of it has worked, surely the system needs changing rather than just putting regions through this with no improvement?”

For Edie Miller, a journalist and mother of one based in the North East, the Tier 3 measures represent less a concerted attempt to punish the North than a kind of abandonment. In other words, it’s motivated by indifference, rather than hostility.

“There is a whole system of defunding and deprivation that means people in some areas of the North are less likely to be either able or willing to comply with lockdown measures, and they have good reason to distrust the government based on that,” she explains. “There are fewer people up here with jobs where they can work from home, for example, so it can certainly feel like the lockdown measures in place are there to benefit someone else.”

None of this is to suggest, necessarily, that the government cares more about the people in London; in fact, allowing the city to go into a more relaxed Tier 2 while infection rates are still relatively high could indicate the precise opposite. “It’s definitely more about the London economy than its inhabitants,” Alex says. “I mean, I don't think they're imposing Tier 3 in Manchester because they love the people there so much.”