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.
The 2023 Good Work Time Series tracks trends in access to good work across all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. This unique view over time is designed to help policymakers identify the most effective ways to improve social, economic and health outcomes together, enabling policy interventions tailored to local challenges.
The pandemic shone a light on traditional and emerging inequalities in work and health. We also see employment's strong positive correlation with pay reversed as the pandemic sets in.
Importantly, the 2023 Time Series points to a new axis of inequality: satisfactory hours in professional jobs have increased with the ability to work from home. Jobs that cannot provide hybrid work did not benefit from this new trend, and some suffered. Many new jobs created during the pandemic are poorer in quality and, as we return to a post-pandemic normal, we must try and reverse that trend.
In this context, the 2023 Time Series offers a sharp focus on creating pathways to future good work as a bridge from response to the cost-of-living crisis to the long-term planning required to tackle deep-seated inequalities across the country. Our analyses invite a reset of relations between the national and subnational tiers of government and a fresh, evidence-driven approach to funding priorities and allocation. They reinforce the need for a new economic paradigm of good work.
Good work should be a cross-cutting policy objective, guiding and measuring the success of ‘Levelling Up' and unleashing the potential of people and places. The labour market is as tight as it has been in our lifetimes, but increasing numbers of people are becoming ‘outsiders’ who are unable to access good quality jobs. 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 offer particular thanks to Research Fellows Dr Elena Papaganniaki of Birmingham City University, Professor Jolene Skordis and Dr Jonathan Clarke, and Kester Brewin.
Institute for the Future of Work Co-Founder and Director
Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides
Regius Professor of Economics, LSE, and Co-Founder, Institute for the Future of Work
Naomi Climer CBE
Institute for the Future of Work Chair and Co-Founder
"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 and 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 eleven years, analyse trends and identify four main types of transition: Good Work Winners, Transitioners, Late 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 interactive map to see how your area has fared over time, then read on for our in-depth analysis.
For further interactive mapping by each Good Work dimension, see our 2023 Annex here.
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 2021.
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 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 2009-2021. 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
The community types developed at stage 2 of the 2022 Good Work Monitor have held for the 2023 Good Work Time Series so we have not repeated our clustering methodology in 2023. This section describes the stage 2 methodology used for the 2022 Good Work Time Series.
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 2009-21 was standardised (mean=0 and variance=1).
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.
For the years 2009-19 The Euclidean distance was calculated between all local authorities across the decade for all years to produce a Euclidean distance matrix. Markvov Multiscale 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.
Given the wealth of information within the Time Series, this commentary only reflects our own initial analyses. We encourage policy makers to use the interactive data visualisations to explore Good Work trends in greater depth for a more nuanced understanding of local dynamics and challenges.
To explore detailed Good Work Monitor and subcomponent scores, click on the column header by the year and indicator below.
A visualisation of how the different regions (with London taken as a separate region) perform over time across the different Good Work indicators is below.
The 2023 Good Work Time Series reveals the nature and extent of disparities in access to Good Work across time and place, in spite of an overall improvement in scores over the decade. Patterns in access to good work have broadly endured through the pandemic as many features of the labour market revert to pre-pandemic trends.
There is poor mobility between the ‘leaders’ and ‘losers’ over time with a very small number of local authorities jostling for the top ten places. Communities falling into the worst performers struggle to emerge from that category, including through the pandemic period.
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. The community groups we developed as part of the 2022 Time Series to characterise different types of work transition hold through the pandemic period. These groups are driven by different subcomponents of the monitor and drivers vary over time.
We identify four main types of community across the country: Winners, Transitioners, Late Developers and Stragglers. Further information about these groups is provided in our 2022 Time Series here.
The UK’s ‘top’ performing local authorities are shown below. Key areas for peer learning and improvement are then discussed.
Top Performers excluding London 2009-2021
For further race-charts of top performers excluding London across each Good Work dimension, see our 2023 Annex here.
The UK’s ‘bottom’ performing local authorities, most in need of support to improve access to Good Work, are here.
Bottom Performers excluding London 2009-2021
For further race-charts of bottom performers excluding London across each Good Work dimension, see our 2023 Annex here.
The Good Work Winners feature relatively high scores across the dimensions of the Good Work Monitor. 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, with lower scores in employment and satisfactory hours. The size of the Good Work Winners community has diminished by approximately one third over the time period studied and mobility within and outside the group is very limited.
The Good Work Transitioners are predominantly rural and coastal communities transitioning towards greater access to many aspects of Good Work over time, with increases in employment, economic activity and satisfactory hours driving the group.
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.
The 2023 Time Series reveals that the negative relationship between professional share and de-routinisation has entrenched through the pandemic.
The Late Developers are a group of communities emerging fairly recently and consisting of regional, urban economic centres including Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry, with parts of Manchester and Newcastle.
Featuring the Industrial Revolution Triangle, this group extended 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.
The Straggler communities (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 decrease in the professional share of new employment opportunities and even slower de-routinisation.
These communities are home to relatively high levels of ‘routine’ work, associated with a higher risk of automation and labour market polarisation. The Time Series highlights that key characteristics of these local authorities are observed right across England, Scotland and most of Wales.
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 required to ensure equitable access to Good Work across London. Satisfactory Hours are particularly poor, and the monitor highlights a marked negative relationship with professional share for this group.
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 differences in access to Good Work between these groups can also be observed as significant inequalities within and between nations. The chart below visualises these inequalities by nation (with London treated separately) across each indicator, enabling comparisons between nations. However, when analysed over time in ‘dynamic’ terms, even Local Authorities in the same region experience fluctuations in their scores.
For decomposition by each indicator and grouping over the decade under review (up to 2019) 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’
Total Score - Regions with Local Authorities
Employment Score and Median Pay across Great Britain - 2009-2021
‘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 2009-2021
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 2009-2021
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 higher levels of variation in profile composition between local authorities within a region than between regions, even where areas are neighbouring.
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.
However, de-routinisation does not progress in tandem with the professional share through the pandemic, suggesting that structural transformation of the economy is unlikely to create good jobs or better work per se. Devolution agreements and Trailblazer Deals have allowed Combined Authorities to pursue improvement in some, but not all, dimensions of the Good Work Monitor.
A chart showing the synergy between professional share & de-routinisation in England is below.
ENGLAND - Professional Share and De-Routinisation of Occupation
ENGLAND - Median Pay and Employment
Our evidence-based focus on Good Work can suggest disparities with the funding allocated by the Department for Levelling Up.
For example, in the recent round of funding, Birmingham and Sandwell — together the third largest area of Gross Value Added in the UK (excluding London), and scoring low in our Good Work Monitor — received only 5 grants, totalling less than £85m. In contrast, East Sussex — with a lower population and higher Good Work scores — received 8 grants totalling over £110m.
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.
SCOTLAND Race Chart 2009-2021
Data from Scotland shows that a trade-off between Median Weekly Pay and Satisfactory Hours is not inevitable, as it appears to be in other nations:
SCOTLAND - Median Weekly Pay and Satisfactory Hours
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.
Wales Race Chart 2009-2021
The relationship between de-routinisation and median pay in Wales is shown below. A regression in pay in 2021 was matched by a similar shift in de-routinisation:
WALES - De-Routinisation 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 policymakers that professional jobs, while a vehicle for increasing pay, are no silver bullet. Interventions and policies aimed at increasing access to Good Work along all dimensions will be required.
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
IFOW will refine the Good Work Times Series as additional data becomes available.