Cities should be
just the tonic
for young people,
says Saskia Murphy

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Is it socially acceptable to decide you no longer want a drink after it has been poured and the bar person is politely holding the card machine out in front of you? This is a question I found myself pondering in a bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter last week when I was being asked to pay £9.50 for a double gin and tonic.

Yes. £9.50. As in 50p less than £10. The gin wasn’t one of those fancy gins you see on Sunday Brunch. It was the house gin, Beefeater, the one you can get in Sainsbury’s for £15 a bottle. And I wasn’t in an overly swanky bar either. It was one of those casual dining places that serves craft beer and ironically plays noughties R&B.

Of course I didn’t refuse to pay. I smiled meekly and handed over my debit card and spent the next hour nursing my drink and taking delicate sips in an attempt to make it last as long as possible.

I love Manchester and am passionate about supporting local independent businesses, but £9.50 for one drink is on par with London prices, and we are not in London. We do not have the following things that make London unique and therefore understandably a little bit more expensive: a handful of royal palaces, Parliament buildings, a medieval castle where William Wallace and a couple of Henry VIII’s wives were executed, an abundance of world-famous galleries and museums, an Olympic stadium, a global financial district, Harrods – oh, and higher wages. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the median gross annual wage for people working in inner London is £34,473. In Manchester the average salary is £26,263. There is a significant difference, so why are our city’s watering holes charging London prices?

The government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative is designed to boost the local economy and promote business growth, but by charging astronomical prices you can’t help but wonder whether some establishments are aspiring for our northern cities to become mini-Londons.

As a working-class teenager growing up in Blackpool, visits to Manchester were my only chance to experience the culture and diversity that cities have to offer. My friends and I would often hop on the train to go to gigs, but this was 10 years ago, when train fares were considerably cheaper and bars didn’t charge upwards of £5 per pint. Exploring the bright lights of the city as a young person from a deprived seaside resort really opened up my eyes and helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life, but I doubt young people are able to do the same now. It’s just too expensive.

Oldham, Salford and Rochdale are all a hop, skip and a jump from Manchester city centre, but in 2016 they appeared in the ONS’s list of the top 10 most deprived areas in the country. As a young professional living in Manchester, I cannot afford to go out in the city centre every weekend. When I spend £9.50 on a bog standard tipple I spend the following week in a cycle of existential doom, so I can’t imagine how a low earner would feel after forking out more than an hour’s wage on one drink.

For young people growing up in deprived areas, cities provide a gateway to music, art, fashion, jobs, education and nightlife, and having easy access can change the direction of their lives. Let’s not shut them out.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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