On June 14th the University of Manchester is publishing a Human Development Report for Greater Manchester. Here, Jill Rubery lays out why the report is important and some of its key findings.

Human development is the concept underpinning the UN’s Human Development Reports which for 27 years, have published league tables of all the world’s nations according to human development indices (HDIs) which measure progress on three key dimensions of human development; a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.  Human development means putting people at the centre of economic and social development and recognising that ‘people are the real wealth of a nation’- and, by analogy, also of a city-region such as Greater Manchester (GM).

The context of the report

The prospects for this approach to have influence on policy have been rising and falling since the decision to write the report was taken over a year ago. With the EU referendum taking place since this decision, the prominence of devolution and the Northern Powerhouse agendas fell, with government primarily reassuring all city regions and rural areas that all would benefit equally from an unspecified devolution process.

However, Greater Manchester still moved its thinking forward, producing an ambitious draft strategy in February 2017 – perhaps over ambitious given the limited tools at its disposal – but even the mayoral election was in the end overshadowed by the surprise announcement of a snap general election.

Whilst the report was being written the policy agenda looked to be on a set track for the next five years. But what a difference a day- or an election- makes.

One certain outcome of last week’s election is that the future political direction and approach to taken to growth, social cohesion and to devolution are now all up for grabs within as well as between the political parties. The intensified national debate may of course still drown out this input into policy thinking within Greater Manchester – but there is also now a chance it may be seen to have national relevance.

A people-centred approach

The report mirrors the approach taken by the UN by measuring human development in Greater Manchester and all its constituent local authorities along the three dimensions of health, knowledge and standards of living. It does this for the full working age population and for men and women separately, but more innovatively it also provides HDIs for GM and its local authorities across six key life stages for early years, through school to adulthood, into mid-life, older working age and old age.

This approach is truly people centred as it recognises the significance for everyone’s life course of key life transitions and the importance of support being available from families, the state or the labour market to enable people to make good transitions and realise their ambitions. By taking this disaggregated cross sectional look at what is happening both by area within GM and by life stage, we are also able to shed light on the variety of problems and challenges the combined authority will face in pursuing its ambitions that no one should be held back or left behind.

Multiple layers of inequality

The indices reveal the wide inequalities not just between GM and the national benchmark (that is the average development scores for England) but also among the local authorities and by life stage. GM is below the national benchmark for all three indices but, although three local authorities are frequently above (Trafford, Stockport and Bury), five others have particularly low scores at times, at less than 60% of the national benchmark. Out of nine indices this applies to Manchester in six cases and to Oldham and Rochdale in five.  GM and its constituent authorities tend to score particularly poorly on measures of physical health and standards of living and the life stages where scores are particularly low include the early years, older working age and retirement to old age.

Our more detailed analyses reveal some striking results: that men in the most deprived quintiles within local authorities in GM are expected to live seven to ten years less than those in the least deprived; that children eligible for free school meals may fare no better and sometimes worse in those local authorities with overall higher average educational performance; that the gender pay gap is lower in GM than for England, largely due to lower male earnings; that 70% of professional jobs in Manchester are taken by those under 40 compared to 50% for GM as a whole; that it is families with children that are particularly overrepresented in low skilled jobs or unemployment relative to the average for England; and that among the older working age population a very high share have not worked for ten years or more or in the case of women have never worked.

Next steps for policy

More in depth research is needed before statistical findings can inform detailed policy programmes but the report does point to some principles concerning how to think about and do policy. Most importantly policy should be people centred and this means putting social goals into investment decisions and developing a longer term approach to identifying the direct and indirect benefits of policy.

The life stage approach not only reveals the need for specific life stage policies- for example  developing an age-friendly city  policy approach across GM,- but also calls for a policy focus on key life stages that shape the whole  life course- for example the imperative that by mid life people are able to secure stable and decent work.

Finally, policies need not only to recognise the long term implications of poor transitions but also to seek opportunities at each life stage for people to catch up and make progress.