Prosperity for all? Getting poverty onto the agenda in discussions of city-region policy
By Ceri Hughes, IGAU, University of Manchester
Discussion of what we can do to tackle poverty has largely disappeared from the national policy agenda but it continues to affect people across Greater Manchester. How can the city-region respond to the challenge?
At last month’s conference – From Poverty to Prosperity for All (organised jointly by GMPA, IGAU and JRF) – we brought together over 90 people from Greater Manchester and beyond to explore what could be done to improve the lives of the estimated 620,000 people in poverty across the city-region. Could we make reducing poverty central to discussions about both economic and social policies? What could this achieve? And what would have to change to achieve this?
A broader “anti-poverty” strategy
Moving from ‘grow now, redistribute later’ to a more ‘inclusive economy’ approach could help to address poverty, as we explore in the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit’s new paper. Inclusive growth policies have the potential to reduce or prevent poverty by targeting some of the poverty risk factors – including by improving job security, tackling low pay, or prioritising investment in quality foundational services. This is significant given that the majority of people in poverty are of working-age: for many in this group, jobs – getting and keeping one, getting a better one, balancing work with other commitments and good health – are likely to be a concern.
But we cannot assume that these kinds of policies will have an impact on people in poverty. Re-designing jobs in the social care and retail sectors, or introducing a good employment charter for businesses across Greater Manchester could benefit people in poverty, but those links are not straightforward and need to be forged from the outset. This partly comes down to a question of policy design: are initiatives explicitly aiming to engage and benefit people from a range of backgrounds, including those on lower incomes? Have policymakers (and employers, voluntary sector organisations etc) thought about the barriers that people might face? These aren’t new questions, but they remain a weak spot in design. Tackling poverty may not always be a priority but we need to know when it is, and why other things might take precedence for a while.
Bringing poverty into view at city-region level
How could we raise the profile of poverty at city-region level and build stronger links between areas? There is already a lot going on in local communities across the region. Several local authorities still conduct analysis of the causes and nature of poverty, and have maintained and updated child and family poverty strategies. But poverty also needs to be considered at city-region level, where key policies are increasingly being discussed.
Currently, none of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s leaders are responsible for tackling poverty, and there are no explicit targets to reduce poverty. GMPA’s Food Poverty Alliance recently called for a poverty lead to be appointed to the Combined Authority, as well as in each of the ten councils. Assessing the impact that policies could have on low income residents could also be made a routine part of the policy development and scrutiny process at local and city-region level. These are just a few of the ideas discussed at the conference and shared again here in the hope that they will lead to further conversations and action in coming months.