15 minutes on… human development in Greater Manchester

For the first time in the UK, the UN’s human development measures have been applied to a region – Greater Manchester. Professor Jill Rubery, who coordinated the research, says it lays bare the region’s stark inequalities


On applying UN measurements of human development to Greater Manchester.
Measuring human development gives a useful focus to the inclusive growth agenda. It says growth should be people-centred and that that should be the starting point. Given the debate in Greater Manchester at the moment around devolution and our own work around decent work and inclusive growth, we were interested in how the measurement of human development could be used as a tool to put people at the centre of how we plan our local economy.

Uneven growth is a major issue for the region
The data shows that Greater Manchester is below the average for England in all the dimensions of human development – health, knowledge and standard of living – and across all the key life stages (except for knowledge between youth and adulthood). I wasn’t expecting to see the starkness in variation between some places. Places like Bury, Stockport and Trafford are doing well but Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside and Manchester itself are behind on many measures. While Greater Manchester has a good employment record and strong growth as a whole, that record co-exists with high levels of deprivation. What this research shows is that uneven growth is a major issue which needs to be tackled. There is concern about the future and what will happen when further changes to benefits are made and people are required to work for longer.

On using the data to understand greater Manchester’s social and economic issues.
By looking at the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester and across all life stages we can work out where particular social and economic problems lie. Manchester is often held up as an exemplar local authority but the data shows it has some of the lowest scores on human development indicators. It has more people with professional jobs compared to other boroughs but those professional jobs are primarily done by younger people and 70% of Manchester’s small areas are in the lowest decile in terms of income for older people. There is still startling deprivation to be found there. This data helps us to take a more fine-grained approach to social and economic issues across the region and should help in the development of targeted policies and interventions.

On sluggish wage growth and poor jobs in the region
One of the causes of deprivation in the city has been the shortfall in high paid jobs for men in the private sector. It’s been very difficult for local residents to get better jobs. People travel into the city for work but among the local population wage growth has been poor, particularly among men. Indeed, data shows that women’s earnings have kept up while men’s have fallen, showing that women’s earnings are now more important for the family economy in the region than nationally. There are also problems establishing reasonable wages in mid-life. While flexible insecure employment is not ideal for anyone, it can often be lived with among younger populations for a while. What we are seeing from the data is an over-representation of families at the insecure end of the market. This is condemning a generation to never having the stability they need.

On starting a debate on the need for decent work
We want this data to start a debate about the region and how to tackle its inequalities. The region weathered the financial crisis but there could be major implications if we see a slowing of growth as a consequence of Brexit. Wealth inequality will create problems in the future but we could use this data and devolution to have a conversation about what needs to be done at a local level to tackle the problems we are finding at each life stage. If Greater Manchester put forward stronger policies around decent jobs and employment opportunities, it could change the debate nationally.

  • The report is available here.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top