The UK has always been a hugely centralised country, and London persistently dominates the national agenda. This year, in particular, all eyes are focused on London and the economic and social benefits the Olympics will bring to the country. It is therefore satisfying (in true competitive spirit) to read about the potential of the North to boost our national economy as set out in the recent report by the Northern Economics Future Commission.
There is a school of thought that says that growth is an enemy of people in poverty, and that all growth is therefore bad. The Commission has carefully examined all the evidence, and clearly refutes this view. Decades of growth have obviously not reduced poverty, and to put all your trust in growth alone would indeed be foolish. But growth can be good and sustainable, and it can deliver just returns. Without it, the evidence presented by the Commission shows that the poorest people and places will only suffer more. And for the north of England the importance of growth in driving prosperity is paramount.
The report emphasises five pillars to support economic development:
JRF is an organisation with deep roots in the North of England and a single purpose to combat inequality and improve the lives of people living in poverty. With this in mind, I am particularly interested in the focus on the human capital strand of this strategy.
While we know that unemployment is damaging, creating a scar across the lives of anyone experiencing it, we also know that the projections for recovery in the North are not great. Employment projections suggest that the North will not return to 2008 levels until 2018 in the North West, 2019 in Yorkshire and The Humber, and sometime after 2020 in the North East.
We know that a revived labour market is one answer to the nightmare of mass unemployment. But we also know that employment alone is not the sole solution to combatting poverty. Chiming with our own evidence, the report finds that in-work poverty and job quality is a significant problem for too many employed people in the North and there appears to be a lack of progression routes out of low-paid employment.
We need a strong, dynamic and effective labour market with jobs that pay sufficiently, that are flexible and that offer real hope of progression. It is these types of jobs that can offer sustainable and lasting routes out of poverty.
That is why JRF is funding research to understand the links between skills and poverty better so that we can try to develop coherent strategies to minimise future poverty and inequality in the UK. We are speaking to a wide range of employers across the North and already seeing signs of progressive businesses who are able to offer real hope of progression to their lowest paid employees.
So while it's not all grim up North, we do need to keep the momentum up and work with employers and businesses to help unleash the potential of the North. It is only by doing so that we will drive the nation’s economic revival, and so give people the tools to overcome poverty.