Inequality must be explicit on the cities agenda

Cities Outlook 2015 event raises some important questions around the growing inequalities between and within cities in the UK.

Yesterday’s Cities Outlook 2015 event raises some important questions around the growing inequalities between and within cities in the UK. Unless recognition of these inequalities becomes a more explicit component of the cities agenda, things are only going to get worse, says Josh Stott.

In spite of political commitments, over the last 10 years the gap between cities in South and rest of UK has increased. The gulf in job creation is perhaps the biggest concern from a poverty perspective, with the South (12.4 per cent), far outstripping jobs growth elsewhere (0.9 per cent).

The metro mayor deal for Greater Manchester represents an exciting step forward for city devolution. But what about places with weaker economies, without a long history of partnership working, who aren’t so well connected to Whitehall – the usual suspects of Sunderland, Grimsby and Blackpool?

Inequalities within cities are also growing. Outlook highlights the squeeze on living standards - wages, in relation to prices, are still 12.6 per cent lower than at start of 2008. Our own research shows that three fifths of people moving from unemployment into work over the last year are paid below the Living Wage and that only one fifth of low-paid employees have progressed from low -paid work over the last 10 years.

Outlook emphasises that cities must “be at the heart” of 2015’s political debate around supporting growth and reducing the deficit. Cities should put reducing poverty and inequality at the heart of political debate. These objectives need to be more explicit, otherwise we risk falling back on flawed trickle-down economic policies, and taking short-term decisions on local public services driven by cost-cutting imperatives.

If we are to avoid the development of two-tier city regions, we need a more proactive and joined-up approach to local labour markets. Cities need better strategies for targeting training and jobs at out-of-work households. They need to support progression for low-paid workers.

Greater devolution should help with much of this – reducing duplication, fostering a more joined-up approach and tailoring local policy to local needs. But there is a danger that cities obsess about more powers, structures and funding and lose focus on what can be done in the here and now, missing the opportunity for genuinely rebalancing our economy and creating more equal places to live.

See the JRF website for more on our work on Cities.

This blog was first published by New Start.