Good Work builds resilience against social, economic and health shocks. More than any other single factor, access to good jobs will determine future prospects for people and places across the country.
At a time when there is a pressing need for a strategy and clear targets to Level Up, the Good Work Time Series provides a framework to align the people and place-based elements of the Government’s ‘defining mission’ and maximise the opportunities afforded by the Levelling Up, Towns, Community Renewal and Skills Funds.
The Good Work Time Series tracks trends in good work across all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. This unique view over time is designed to help policy makers identify the most effective ways to improve social, economic and health outcomes together, enabling better interventions tailored to local challenges.
The pandemic has shone a light on traditional and emerging inequalities in work and health, including new axes of inequality such as the ability to work from home without social contact. Telepresence will persist as the pandemic subsides, but other features of the labour market are likely to revert to pre-pandemic trends. Through this transition, a sharper focus on creating pathways to future Good Work offers a bridge from crisis response to the long-term planning required to tackle complex and deep-seated inequalities across the country.
Our analyses invite a new approach to funding allocation and a reset of relations between the national and subnational tiers of government. The creation of good work should be a central, policy objective cutting across the priority areas identified by the Government to guide and measure the success of Levelling Up. Now is the time to act and ensure a future of Good Work is secured for all.
We would like to thank the IFOW team and partner the Imperial College Centre for Mathematics of Precision Healthcare, with particular thanks to Research Fellows Dr Elena Papaganniaki and Dr Jonathan Clarke.
Institute for the Future of Work Co-Founder and Director
Naomi Climer CBE
Institute for the Future of Work Co-Founder and Co-Chair
Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides
Institute for the Future of Work Co-Founder and Co-Chair
 Ambitious plan to drive levelling up agenda, Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, September 2021
 Build Back Better: Our plan for growth, HM Treasury, CP 401, The Stationery Office, March 2021
 Levelling Up Fund: prioritisation of places methodology note HM Treasury, Department for Transport and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, June 2021
"Good work" is central to the prosperity and wellbeing of individuals, communities and the country. Our research shows why and how good work is key to meeting the toughest socio-economic challenges and to building strong, resilient communities across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Good work is more than employment. It is work that promotes dignity, autonomy, equality; work that has fair pay and conditions; work where people are properly supported to develop their talents and have a sense of community. Access to good work confers protection for people and communities against health, social and economic shocks and helps them adapt to transformations. Good work also fosters a sense of unity and solidarity, healing the sharp divisions across the country that have grown through the pandemic.
In 2021 the Institute for the Future of Work published the Good Work Monitor, which showed that the people and places with access to good work have fared best through the pandemic. By contrast, ‘left-behind communities’ with less access to good work experienced the sharpest end of the pandemic, with inequalities of work and health deepening. In particular, a lack of good work strongly correlated with deaths and diseases of despair before the pandemic, and with COVID mortality through the pandemic.
‘The UK’s core challenge in ‘levelling up’ is that access to good work is very unevenly spread across the country'
Building on insights provided by the Good Work Monitor, the Good Work Time Series offers a deeper dive into trends shaping access to good work. We trace what is happening across 203 local authorities over a decade, analyse trends and identify four main types of transition: Good Work Winners, TransitionersLate Developers and Stragglers.
We provide an interactive tool to explore the history and trajectories of access to good work by locality, enabling the identification of strengths, barriers and areas for improvement.
View the animated map to see how your area has fared. Read on for our analysis and interactive tool.
‘During the pandemic we have been more powerfully aware of entrenched inequalities…structural inequalities in our society have to be addressed’
The Good Work Monitor offers the first holistic measure of the availability of good work in each local authority area of England, Scotland and Wales. The monitor combines data on three domains: ‘labour market access’, ‘status and autonomy’ and ‘pay and conditions’. The Good Work Time Series analyses access to Good Work in local authorities across the United Kingdom over the decade from 2009 to 2019.
The Institute for the Future of Work (IFOW) defines Good Work through ten principles set out in the Good Work Charter. The principles of the Charter aim to encourage a ‘high road’ approach which exceeds legal compliance. But the Charter also synthesises relevant national and international legal requirements and standards pertaining to Good Work.
What gets measured is what gets valued – and tends to be where action is oriented. Good Work indicators were selected following a review of relevant academic and policy literature, and subject to data quality and availability at an upper tier local authority level. Objective measures, which reflect real-world choices and outcomes, were preferred to capture persistent trends within local areas at an aggregate level. IFOW has worked with researchers from Imperial College to rigorously select, assess and compile the data that underpins the monitor.
Data were collected for 203 unitary authorities and counties across England, Scotland and Wales for the decade 2009-2019. It was decided this geographic level provides the best balance of data availability and geographic specificity. London has been analysed as a separate entity due to its relative size and impact. Due to a lack of data availability, Northern Ireland is not included in the monitor at this stage.
The Good Work Time Series enables a detailed look at changing relationships between different aspects of work quality and analysis of the drivers of transition by community. The methodology used for Stage 1 of building the Good Work Monitor is described here.
Table 1 – Good Work Monitor and subcomponents
On completion of stage one, the raw data for all six of the Good Work Monitor domains used in the Time Series for the years 2009-19 was standardised (mean=0 and variance=1). The Euclidean distance was calculated between all local authorities across the decade for all years to produce a Euclidean distance matrix. Markvov Multiscale Community Community Detection then identified four communities or ‘clusters’ sharing similar features over the decade. There was no direct or indirect knowledge of the geographical position of any local authority in this exercise. The clustering methodology used for stage two of the Time Series is described here.
In this report, we highlight key findings including ranking, grouping and shared features of local authority transitions over time. We decompose Good Work indicators to examine drivers, weaknesses and strengths for each community, and offer an overview of trends for local authorities within England, Scotland, Wales and London.
Given the wealth of information within the Time Series, this commentary reflects our initial analyses only. We encourage policy makers to use the interactive data visualisations to explore Good Work trends by individual local authority and cluster in greater depth for a more nuanced understanding of local dynamics and challenges.
Use our interactive map to explore Good Work indicators and rankings in areas of interest over the decade.
To explore detailed Good Work Monitor and subcomponent scores, click on the column header by the year and indicator below.
The Time Series reveals the nature and extent of disparities in access to Good Work across time and place. In spite of an improvement in total scores over the decade, the number of worst performers increases from 52 to 80 local authorities. Membership of the Good Work Winners diminishes from 25 to 18 local authorities, reflecting growing polarisation in access to Good Work across the country.
There is little mobility between the ‘leaders’ and ‘losers’ over time, with a very small number of local authorities jostling for the top ten places. For example, Wandsworth, Kingston-upon-Thames, Wokingham, Surrey, Maidenhead and East Dunbartonshire among the top scorers over the last ten years, while Bleanau Gwent, Middlesborough, Leicester, Kingston upon Hull and Sandwell compete for the lowest total scores. Communities falling into the worst performers do not emerge from that category.
Our analyses demonstrate a high level of interaction between the different dimensions of the monitor, with a particularly striking synergy between employment and pay for all ranks and groups. We identify four main types of community across the country. Good Work ‘transitions’ in each type of community are driven by different subcomponents of the monitor, and drivers vary over time. Here we discuss the primary characteristics of each type of community, identifying the outstanding synergies and trade-offs between Good Work domains. For an interactive version to explore Good Work trends for each year from 2009-19, click here. A Sankey chart is available here.
The UK’s ‘top’ performing local authorities are here. Key areas for peer learning and improvement are discussed below.
Top performers excluding London 2009-2019
The UK’s ‘bottom’ performing local authorities, most in need of support to improve access to Good Work, are here.
Bottom Performers 2009-2019
The Good Work Winners are predominantly based in the South of England, encircling London, and the mid-Scottish areas of East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire.
Outposts include Edinburgh, Trafford, Cheshire, York and Bristol.
High overall scores do not improve consistently, or at pace, and masks markedly different levels of Good Work between local authorities within the group. The group is driven by a high professional share and de-routinisation of occupations, with lower scores in employment and satisfactory hours.
The size of the Good Work Winners community has diminished by approximately one third over time and mobility within and outside the group is very limited.
The close synergy between median pay and professional share over time for Good Work winners is below:
Good Work Winners – Median Pay and Professional Share
These predominantly rural and coastal communities are transitioning towards greater access to many aspects of Good Work over time, with increases in employment, economic activity and satisfactory hours driving the group.
But communities in this group still have fairly low scores for professional share, de-routinisation and median pay. Median pay is the least significant contributor over the years, reflecting the long tail of low pay across the country. In contrast to the other groups, the Time Series reveals a negative relationship between professional share and de-routinisation, which could be addressed.
This group of communities starts with local authorities mainly situated in Berkshire in 2009, joined by Sussex, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Monmouthshire, North Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire in 2014. By 2019, this group of communities has grown exponentially, gaining members across most of England and Scotland.
Communities considered to be Good Work Transitioners demonstrate a slow and steady increase in fairly Good Work scores over the decade as access to routine jobs with satisfactory hours increases. Although this is the largest group by 2019, 17 local authorities do not transition towards Good Work and actually fall further behind, joining the Stragglers community.
The close synergy between professional and de-routinisation share over time for Good Work Transitioners is below:
Good Work Transitioners – Professional and De-Routinisation Share
The Late Developers are a group of communities emerging fairly recently and consisting of regional, urban economic centres in Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry, with parts of Manchester and Newcastle.
Featuring the Industrial Revolution Triangle, this group of 52 now extends to Glasgow City, Bradford, Doncaster, Rotherham and Cardiff. Except for Hartlepool and Middlesborough, most local authorities in this group have transitioned from those characterised by the poorest work quality in the UK.
Overall Good Work scores improved at the end of the decade, driven mostly by the satisfactory hours in work. Other domains of Good Work have not yet improved:
i) professional share is a notably low contributor, although a marginal upward path points to unfulfilled potential in this group
ii) median remains low
(iii) jobs remain highly routine.
In contrast to the nationally observed positive synergy between employment and pay, this group displays the reverse pattern, suggesting that this group has not benefited from policies that boost employment and pay together. This invites particular attention in the Levelling Up White Paper.
Stuck with old 2009 scoring, Hartlepool and Middlesborough cannot be said to have undergone any meaningful type of Good Work transition, ending the decade particularly vulnerable to the health and economic shocks that follow. These communities are considered Good Work Stragglers and are described further below.
The relationship between unemployment and pay for Late Developers over time is below:
The Late Developers – Employment and Median Pay
The Straggler communities (formerly the 'northern towns') share features with the Late Developers but are characterised by relatively poor access to Good Work across all dimensions of Good Work throughout the Time Series.
An increase in employment towards the end of the decade coincides with stagnation in the other dimensions of Good Work, with a marked decrease in the professional share of new employment opportunities and slow de-routinisation. This means that the increase in employment does not drive de-routinisation at the national level and suggests that new jobs created in this community were not good jobs. In addition, these communities are home to relatively high levels of ‘routine’ work, associated with a higher risk of automation and labour market polarisation. High levels of unemployment persist throughout.
The first member of the group is Ceredigan in Wales in 2012, joined by a ‘belt’ from Cornwall, Gwynedd, Conwy, Lancashire across to Lincolnshire in 2013. Membership peaks in 2016 before receding by 2019 with notable exceptions: the Red Wall, North West Wales, the North East authorities around Northumberland and County Durham and (mostly) the Scottish border.
The Time Series demonstrates the significance of poor access to Good Work to the resilience and flourishing of the Red Wall. It also highlights that key characteristics of these local authorities are observed right across England, Scotland and most of Wales.
The relationship between employment and de-routinisation over time for Good Work Stragglers is below:
Former Late Developers and Stragglers – Employment and De-Routinisation Share
London has unique characteristics and has been treated as a separate region within England. The Capital’s strong performance in Good Work Access is driven by particularly high scores in professional share (very high) and median pay (high). However, consistently high scores in these areas across the Time Series obscure the extent of variation between neighbouring local authorities, showing that action is still required to ensure equitable access to more broadly defined Good Work across London. Satisfactory Hours are particularly poor, and the monitor highlights a marked negative relationship with professional share for this group. This may reflect the common practice of professionals working more than 48 hours a week.
London has the most extreme scores of any group, with some local authorities experiencing ‘opposite’ directions of travel, even when they have the same or similar scoring. Overall scores over the decade total 340, compared to 290 for the rest of England.
London has an unusually high number of outliers, including Camden, Kingston, Westminster and Chelsea. Variation within London warrants further analysis, which will follow this report. The close synergy between professional share and medium pay for London is below:
LONDON – Professional Share and Median Pay
LONDON – Professional Share and Satisfactory Hours
The Markvov Multiscale Community Detection method applied enables the identification of further sub-communities and partitions by year, domain, and changing relationships within the monitor. Further analyses are available to policy-makers on request.
For decomposition by each indicator and grouping over the decade under review please click here.
‘The ultimate purpose of the economy is to serve the needs of society. And society’s most pressing needs are ultimately tied to the reduction of social and economic inequalities. This takes us to the most important of social and economic activities – work’
The differences in access to Good Work between these groups can also be observed as significant inequalities within and between regions. The chart below visualises these inequalities by region across each indicator, enabling comparisons between regions:
Total Score - Regions with Local Authorities
‘Good health is, to a large extent, a consequence of good jobs. Work is absolutely central to wellbeing, dignity and for communities’
England’s Top Performing local authorities are here. Areas for improvement and peer learning are discussed below:
Top 10 Rest of England Race Chart 2009-2019
England’s bottom performing local authorities, most in need of support to improve access to Good Work are here:
Bottom 10 Rest of England Race Chart 2009-2019
A steady increase in overall Good Work scores over the decade masks differences revealed by a detailed decomposition of Good Work domains at a local authority level. The Good Work Times Series points to a higher levels of variation in profile composition between local authorities within a region than between regions, even where areas are neighbouring. For example, the region of Yorkshire and the Humber includes the city of York, ranked 23rd and Kingston upon Hull, ranked 144 in 2010, a variation which broadly persists.
Professional share is the only component of the monitor which increases steadily over time, consistent with transition from manufacturing to a services economy, combined with the growth of public sector professional jobs in health care and education. This highlights professional share as a vehicle for increasing median pay, borne out at each level of analysis. The slow pace of increase in Good Work outside the Capital and communities classified as Good Work Winners, points to opportunities to boost this dimension, associated with higher GDP growth and productivity, further, especially in the Good Work Transitioners and Straggler communities seen across England.
De-routinisation does not progress in tandem with the professional share, showing that structural transformation of the economy will not automatically create good jobs or better work. A focus on increasing transition to professional work will help, but policy activism is required across a much broader front.
Devolution agreements made from 2015 allowed Combined Authorities to pursue some dimensions of the Good Work agenda from 2017, with relative success. For example, the 2017 independent Inequalities Commission in Greater Manchester highlighted the importance of good local jobs to ‘Good Lives For All’ triggering a series of local policy interventions and the Good Employment Charter targeted at improving job quality.
A chart showing the synergy between professional share & de-routinisation in England is below. For all analyses by indicator please click here.
ENGLAND - Professional Share and De-Routinisation of Occupation
ENGLAND - Median Pay and Employment
The Time Series highlights the strong performance of Scotland, which boasts a history of cross-department focus on quality work, including the Fair Work Framework, Fair Work First procurement pledge and Healthy Working Lives initiative from Public Health Scotland. These initiatives communicate both immediate and wider advantages of good work, including the improvement of health and wellbeing beyond working age adults to their families and communities.
Contrasting with the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland demonstrates a positive relationship between satisfactory hours and median pay, and between satisfactory hours and professional share. This demonstrates that the negative relationships observed elsewhere here are not inevitable and offers a benchmark for policy makers.
The relative success of these initiatives has not yet reached Moray or Angus in the Highlands, or a group of local authorities in South West Scotland including Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire, Glasgow and surrounding areas, Falkirk, Lanarkshire and West Lothian. These areas share many characteristics with the Red Wall. However, as series of local authorities close to the Scottish border including South Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire succeeded in transitioning from the Stragglers by the end of the decade.
The ranking of local authorities in Scotland are below. For all analyses by indicator please click here.
SCOTLAND Race Chart 2009-2019
A chart showing the close synergy between de-routinisation and professional share in Scotland is below:
SCOTLAND - De-routinisation and Professional Share
Wales consistently underperforms in most dimensions of the Good Work monitor, highlighting patterns that have become entrenched over time and the lack of mobility in access to Good Work.
The Time Series shows that Levelling Up policies should target employment and work quality together in Wales, aiming at the creation of good jobs, not any jobs, to address the range of intersectional inequalities growing in Wales. Examination of the detailed, rather than aggregate data, demonstrates a positive relationship between employment and pay in particular. Professional share is very low, and de-routinisation of jobs is only half that of London, suggesting Wales would benefit most from policy activism directed at increasing professional jobs to boost low median pay, alongside policies directed at ‘raising the floor.’
Good Work initiatives, such as the Fair Work Commission in 2019 request additional resources, institutions and enhanced mechanisms to pursue the Good, and Fair, Work agenda, pointing out this is required to become more than an ‘expressed aspiration’ for Wales. The synergy between professional share and median pay in Wales is below:
The ranking of local authorities in Wales is below. For all analyses by indicator please click here.
Wales Race Chart 2009-2019
The synergy between professional share and median pay in Wales is below:
WALES - Professional Share and Median Pay
The Capital’s strong performance is driven by the high professional share and median pay. Consistently high scores in these areas across the Good Work Time Series obscure the extent of variation between neighbouring local authorities, which is more extreme than any other group.
There is one exception to the positive synergies between the dimensions of Good Work, and this is seen most sharply in London: satisfactory hours has a negative relationship with median pay and drops dramatically as the latter increases. Similarly, satisfactory hours are experienced as a cost for more autonomy at work.
Taken together, our findings reminds policy-makers that professional jobs, while a vehicle for increasing pay, are no silver bullet and interventions aimed at increasing access to Good Work along all dimensions will be required in the Levelling Up White Paper. A chart showing the synergy between median pay & employment in London is below:
The ranking of local authorities in London is below:
A chart showing the synergy between median pay and satisfactory hours in London is below:
LONDON – Satisfactory Hours and Median Pay
For all analyses by indicator please click here.