Good work in left behind places

Introducing CPP’s new research project on good work

15 February 2024

By Rosie Fogden

5 minute read

Feburary's GDP figures show that the UK ended 2023 in recession, driven in part by poor performance in manufacturing. The Centre for Progressive Policy’s recent polling with IpsosUK showed that people living in former industrial areas are deeply pessimistic about their future and feel that few local people have access to good economic opportunities. This type of former industrial area, along with coastal towns in the North and Midlands, are where you are most likely to find the neighbourhoods that place-based funder Local Trust has identified as ‘left behind’. These are neighbourhoods that are doubly disadvantaged - they not only have high levels of socio-economic deprivation but also limited access to community spaces, poor connectivity, and low levels of community engagement. They experience worse outcomes compared not only to the national average, but also other deprived areas.

The coming general election could provide hope of change for the people living in these places but it is increasingly clear that the next government will be hamstrung by tight budgets, putting a question mark over promises of greater investment and better pay deals. In the meantime there are mayoral elections in May with several key figures up for re election including Andy Burnham, Jamie Driscoll and Andy Street. So how could these incoming and incumbent politicians be working with businesses and community led organisations to improve people’s lives in those parts of the country that feel low on opportunity?

In a new project with Local Trust, CPP will be focusing on the role of good work in transforming the experience of those in left behind places by enabling them to participate in and benefit from economic activity and build a stronger local economy.

In essence, good employment is about pay, security, flexibility, opportunities for participation and progression and an environment that is supportive of people’s health and wellbeing. It is a lynchpin of inclusive growth and CPP analysis of IMD, population and labour market data finds that inequalities in income and unemployment are leading social determinants of good health. If we are collectively getting sicker and struggling to participate in the labour market at all, never mind innovate, then better quality work must be at least part of the answer to the UK’s economic woes.

We know that the majority of people living in left behind places are employed in sectors like retail and health and social care. So part of the puzzle is about improving productivity, pay and conditions in these sectors. It is also about local infrastructure and access to opportunities. Too often, poor public transport connections are a barrier to accessing a wider set of opportunities and research by Local Trust finds that ‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods not only tend to have poor public transport but also be more reliant on it due to low levels of car ownership.

It is also about less tangible types of social and economic infrastructure like access to suitable childcare. CPP has shown that limited access to childcare has restricts employment opportunities for women and despite government commitments to increase funded hours, we know that nurseries are closing in poorer places because the rates paid often don’t cover costs.

The childcare sector itself can also be a source of poor quality work and is in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis as the latest data suggests that a childcare assistant earns less per hour (£11.45) than they could make working in a call centre (£12.22) or a warehouse (£12.08) despite the immense social value of their work.

In Liverpool, CPP is supporting the combined authority’s efforts to take a whole place approach to recruitment and retention in the early years sector through our Inclusive Growth Network. As well as improving working conditions in the sector, this pioneering approach could help improve access to work in left behind places like Norris Green in Liverpool where women are more likely to be economically inactive due to caring responsibilities (11.4%) than in the rest of the country (8.8%).

Other members of our Inclusive Growth Network, including teams under Mayors Jamie Driscoll and Oliver Coppard have also been working hard on the issue of good employment. Alongside their three constituent local authorities and DWP, the North of Tyne Combined Authority have developed an employability plan for the region to enable more people to enter and stay in work, while in South Yorkshire - described as Britain’s low pay capital – the authority have been working with the IGN to identify how businesses and organisations can drive more inclusive local economies.

But are these reforms really reaching those people living in left behind places? If so, can they be replicated? If not, why not? And what can be done to address this? At national, regional and local level? These are some of the questions we will be working alongside Local Trust to address between now and the autumn. We will be speaking to members and leaders of those communities who are experiencing deprivation and also find themselves without an active community or connections to key services and jobs, to find out what is needed to support access into quality work in those places. By addressing the needs of those left behind places across post-industrial and coastal areas, we hope to provide an important puzzle piece in the pursuit of a healthier, more secure and inclusive UK economy.