12 March 2013
Over the last two years, we've been working with Demos on what Good Growth means and discussed our latest report on Good Growth for Cities at a round table with Greg Clark MP, the Minister for Cities and Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as reported on by Ray Mills, previously on Public Sector Matters. The idea of Good Growth is that economic growth should mean more than what’s measured by GDP, so the Index is based on what people say are the most important factors to them from a quality of life perspective. Among the indicators identified by the public, jobs was the most important factor, ahead even of income.
My work as a member of the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission has taught me, however, that in-work poverty remains a big issue - 60% of all children in relative income poverty in the UK are in families where at least one adult works. Indeed, in-work poverty is now more common than out-of-work poverty and while unemployment seems to be falling, we seem to be creating lots of low paid jobs that don't earn workers a living wage.
So if conventional economic growth is about creating jobs, then Good Growth must be about Good Jobs - ones that give satisfaction, pride in doing good work, meaning (such as contribution to the community) and an income sufficient to live on, ideally with a little left over! From a policy perspective this suggests three things to me.
First, investment in skills and education so that people can actually take advantage of the higher paid, more productive employment opportunities created. To achieve this we need collaboration between the public and private sectors to create new good jobs and investment in the training needed to match people to these opportunities.
However, it's interesting that in responding to the Good Growth survey the public didn't mention education and skills as one of their top ten priorities. Some may see education and skills as simply an input to get jobs whilst others probably don’t value such skill development or lack aspiration and expectations – do people ‘stop education, start working and stop learning’? Secondly therefore public sector leaders have to create a compelling growth story about their area, particularly where the lack of expectation and confidence is an issue.
A third leg to the policy response to create good jobs might be the adoption of the Living Wage. This would lessen the need for tax credits to boost income and may have other benefits, although the level at which such a wage is set will inevitably be the subject of much analysis and debate. On the one hand some fear the potential for job losses, whilst others believe that business can cope through a combination of the productivity benefits associated with more motivated employees and compressed wage differentials.
In these difficult times, however, we must aspire to create Good Jobs, not just any jobs, if we really are to deliver Good Growth.