A tailored response is required to tackle cities’ unemployment challenges

Today, Centre for Cities launches Cities Outlook 2012, our fifth annual ‘health check’ on UK cities, and this year we have focused on unemployment in cities.

The report, sponsored by IBM and the LGA, shows that there is a strong geographical nature to unemployment across UK cities. But unemployment is not evenly spread across the UK. While cities such as York and Cambridge have relatively low levels of unemployment, cities such as Grimsby and Hull have a much larger problem.

The variation in unemployment across cities is stark. While the number of people in Cambridge claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is just 1.8 percent of the total working age population, 8.0 percent of residents in Hull are on JSA. And the gap between the two cities has more than doubled since the onset of the recession; it has widened from 3.1 percentage points in February 2008 to 6.2 percentage points in November 2011.

Similar patterns are seen for youth and long term unemployment. There are around one in ten young job seekers in Grimsby compared to less than one in 30 in York. And one in four job seekers in Hull has been unemployed for over one year in contrast to one in ten in Swansea. These trends could have worrying consequences – previous research has shown the long term ‘scarring’ effects that youth and long term unemployment can have on future employment prospects.

The concentration of unemployment in some cities requires a varied geographic approach to tackle the different unemployment challenges that cities face. But to date, the Government’s approach has been spatially blind; while the Youth Contract that was announced by Nick Clegg in November is welcomed, it has ignored geography as a key dimension of the unemployment problem.

The Government has signalled its strong intention over the last year to devolve power away from Whitehall to cities, and its announcement of ‘city deals’ is a key part of this. Policies to tackle unemployment must be a core part of these deals. The nature of helping someone find employment in Hull is likely to be very different to what it is in Portsmouth. As such, a more tailored response is required to each city’s unemployment problem ranging from short term solutions, such as work experience, to longer term programmes to improve residents’ skills, if policies designed to reduce unemployment are to be effective.

* Paul Swinney is Economist at the Centre for Cities

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • This is an excellent report, but Nick Clegg is right to set up “spatially blind” youth policies. We cannot neglect the young unemployed in York just because there are fewer of them. Policy must concentrate on people, not place.

  • Unemployment in construction is 21.2%, I wish these guys would tell the truth. We all need to education ourself in this tough market only way is a degree or change your career.. search online for High Speed Universities for career advice

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