by Graham Whitham
Increasingly it feels like Greater Manchester is moving slowly but surely towards a much stronger and clearer agenda on poverty. Andy Burnham’s work on homelessness, the development of local anti-poverty strategies by some of our local authorities (some of which are detailed here), the interest in Poverty Truth Commissions across the city region and the work of GMPA’s Food Poverty Alliance are all signs of a determination to tackle the issue of poverty through partnership working and in a sustainable and strategic way.
A good next step would be embedding tackling poverty and raising living standards within the city region’s economic agenda, recognising the negative impact poverty has on the economy of Greater Manchester through lost human potential and reduced productivity and the need for increased spending on public services.
That’s why it was good to see a strong focus on raising living standards and addressing inequalities in the Independent Greater Manchester Prosperity Review, launched last week. The Review was commissioned by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). It updates the Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER) published ten years ago.
The Prosperity Review recognises that whilst there has been strong growth in highly skilled areas such as the digital sector, the city region is also home to a lot of jobs that are low paid and offer poor terms and conditions. The growth in ‘poor quality jobs’ has exacerbated existing inequalities within Greater Manchester and left the city region’s living standards lagging behind those of London and the South East.
It has become increasingly accepted that we need to ensure economic activity benefits the lives of everyday citizens. Concentrating on high growth sectors of the economy risks ignoring large swathes of Greater Manchester’s economy, and we can’t expect living standards to rise if we have a two-tier economy – one offering well paid, secure jobs in highly skilled sectors, and the other offering poor quality jobs with limited opportunities for progression in traditionally low paying sectors such as care and retail. Harnessing the role of technology in these sectors should help boost productivity and link them more closely to the ever-expanding digital economy. The challenge will be ensuring workers across the city region benefit from this. We need to develop new ways of measuring that this is happening so that we can better understand whether the ‘economic story’ of Greater Manchester is translating into positive outcomes for its residents.
The Prosperity Review will sit alongside the Greater Manchester Industrial Strategy. The Mayor has also been working on a Good Employment Charter aimed at encouraging wider take-up of positive employment practices among employers. More details will be announced later this year. Work on these different elements presents an opportunity to set out an economic programme for the city region that focuses clearly on outcomes for residents. As other approaches set out a stronger agenda on poverty, we need to think about how we link the two so that tackling poverty is part of how we develop and grow the Greater Manchester Economy.