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Inequalities across Greater Manchester laid bare in ‘human development’ study

The full extent of social and economic inequalities across Greater Manchester - and between the city and the rest of the UK - have been laid bare in a major study.

The Human Development Report for Greater Manchester researched inequalities by gender, ethnicity, social class and locality across the city’s ten boroughs. It is seen as a first step towards mapping and understanding the factors that shape human development at the city region level.

It specifically looked at the experiences of Greater Manchester residents throughout their lives, an approach which allows researchers to highlight some of the critical human development issues at different life stages.

Lead author Jill Rubery, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at Alliance MBS, explained: “Viewing human development through the life course perspective illuminates these challenges as the chances available to individuals at key life stages, and the support they receive from the social and economic environment to make transitions, have long-term consequences. Meeting the challenge of supporting people at key life transitions is critical for Greater Manchester to achieve its stated ambition of a more inclusive growth in which no-one is held back or left behind.”

Khalid Malik, former Director of the UN's Human Development Report Office, welcomed the report as the first of its kind in the UK. “It represents an innovative take on addressing concerns over a life cycle or life course and identifying those specific transitions which are critical in shaping people’s life capabilities.”


The report showed that in all cases the human development indices for Greater Manchester - calculated for working age adults and for six key life stages - are below the national benchmark, that is the score for England as a whole.

The indices measure three key dimensions of human development – health, knowledge and standard of living – and Greater Manchester scores particularly poorly on health and standard of living measures. Human development scores for men were also lower than for women, while the largest gaps relative to the national benchmark were found for the early years, for older workers and for men of working age.

The indicators on which the overall Greater Manchester score was particularly low were: healthy life expectancy at birth and at age 65; mortality rates for those aged 55-59; men's wage income; and personal, social and emotional development at a reception class age.

Added Prof Rubery: “What the research also showed was that at each life stage, and for the working population as a whole, there was a high degree of polarisation of scores across the local authorities in Greater Manchester. Trafford, Stockport and Bury are the only three authorities where the majority of index scores are above the national benchmark. Not one of the seven other boroughs exceeds the benchmark on any aggregate index score.”

Policy response

Prof Rubery said there were a number of policy approaches that could be pursued at the Greater Manchester level to promote job creation and access to work.

These included working with employers and trade unions to raise and embed decent work standards; supporting working parents through childcare and encouraging employer action on flexible working and the gender pay gap; and monitoring social problems due to changes in benefits in order to reduce risks such as homelessness.

She added that Greater Manchester has been a pioneer in its approach to the early years and this work needed to continue. “This has to be a major priority. Although socio-economic gaps in development at age five are reducing, they are still very large. But life chances aren’t fully determined by age five. We argue for a ‘cradle to career’ approach, looking at development from 0 to 19 and beyond.” 

Economic well-being

The report says that narrow notions of economic well-being such as GNP also hides the impacts of uneven growth and distribution on large parts of the society. This means rethinking investment criteria to take into account social goals and outcomes and rejecting short term cost benefit analyses that discount the longer term benefits of preventive measures.

“Our hope is not just that the findings will increase understanding of the issues we face in Greater Manchester and their scale, but that the life course and human development approaches that we have taken will provide tools for thinking about how these issues might be approached and what it is that would count as success,” said Prof Rubery.


She added that a focus on Greater Manchester was very timely. “Not only is devolution opening up a new political space for rethinking priorities and policies, but also the characteristics of Greater Manchester provide a window on the complexities of the human development challenges and possibilities for British society as a whole. Greater Manchester is a melting pot of communities and cultures, divergent legacies and opportunities and inter-generational as well as inter-area differences.”

The study was a collaboration between the European Work and Employment Research Centre at Alliance MBS and the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit within the Manchester Urban Institute at The University of Manchester.

How can a human development approach inform debates on Greater Manchester’s future? A blog by Jill Rubery >>