Three charts to show why everyone is so bloody furious all the time

People are angry. Image: Channel 4.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

There’s a concept in economics, developed by the American economist Arthur Okun, called the “Misery Index”. It’s created by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate: the combined number, Okun argued, would give a quick sense of how the average citizen was feeling about the economy.

The average British citizen these days is clearly feeling, well, a bit pissed off. It’s difficult to point to commonalities between the results of the Brexit referendum and last month’s general election: both were, from one point of view, shock results, but the demographics and locations of the voters that provided that shock were very different.

What both reflected, though, is that people are pretty bloody frustrated about the state of things – and so, are looking for an excuse to kick the government of the day.

Unfortunately, though, the misery index is pretty unlikely to reflect this. Unemployment has remained surprisingly low throughout the post-crash period. Inflation, too, has only recently started to tick upwards to any significant degree (thanks, Brexit). And yet, clearly, people are clearly annoyed.

So are there any economic stats which might make more sense as the building blocks for a contemporary British misery index?

The following chart shows real wage growth in the larger British cities between 2004 and 2016. Or at least it would, if there had been any: in nearly three-quarters of cities, buying power has actually fallen.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Counter-intuitively, perhaps, many of the cities where it’s fallen by the most are the South East. My guess is that reflects the decline of the banker’s bonus culture which were distorting the averages, but that is a guess.

Here’s another chart: this one is the percentage change in house prices. These – sit down, this may come as a shock – have continued to rise, even though wages haven’t.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

These things are imperfect measures. For one thing, averages can mislead. For another, an increase in house prices doesn’t hurt everyone: in fact, it’s rather a good thing if you happen to own a house. Both measures disproportionately affect the young.

But nonetheless, they go some way, I think, to explaining the sheer level of frustration with the establishment making the rounds of British politics at the moment. Wages have fallen; costs have increased. Economic life, for many people, is worse than it was a decade ago.

Here’s one last chart, combining the figures from the previous two. In every British city for which we have data, house prices have risen. In fact, in every one of them, they’ve risen faster than wages.

Click to expand. Image: Centre for Cities.

Why are people so angry? Duh.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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Budget 2017: Philip Hammond just showed that rejecting metro mayors was a terrible, terrible error

Sorry, Leeds, nothing here for you: Philip Hammond and his big red box. Image: Getty.

There were some in England’s cities, one sensed, who breathed a sigh of relief when George Osborne left the Treasury. Not only was he the architect of austerity, a policy which had seen council budgets slashed as never before: he’d also refused to countenance any serious devolution to city regions that refused to have a mayor, an innovation that several remained dead-set against.

So his political demise after the Brexit referendum was seen, in some quarters, as A Good Thing for devolution. The new regime, it was hoped, would be amenable to a variety of governance structures more sensitive to particular local needs.

Well, that theory just went out of the window. In his Budget statement today, in between producing some of the worst growth forecasts that anyone can remember and failing to solve the housing crisis, chancellor Philip Hammond outlined some of the things he was planning for Britain’s cities.

And, intentionally or otherwise, he made it very clear that it was those areas which had accepted Osborne’s terms which were going to win out. 

The big new announcement was a £1.7bn “Transforming Cities Fund”, which will

“target projects which drive productivity by improving connectivity, reducing congestion and utilising new mobility services and technology”.

To translate this into English, this is cash for better public transport.

And half of this money will go straight to the six city regions which last May elected their first metro mayor elections. The money is being allocated on a per capita basis which, in descending order of generosity, means:

  • £250m to West Midlands
  • £243 to Greater Manchester
  • £134 to Liverpool City Region
  • £80m to West of England
  • £74m to Cambridgeshire &d Peterborough
  • £59m to Tees Valley

That’s £840m accounted for. The rest will be available to other cities – but the difference is, they’ll have to bid for it.

So the Tees Valley, which accepted Osborne’s terms, will automatically get a chunk of cash to improve their transport system. Leeds, which didn’t, still has to go begging.

One city which doesn’t have to go begging is Newcastle. Hammond promised to replace the 40 year old trains on the Tyne & Wear metro at a cost of £337m. In what may or may not be a coincidence, he also confirmed a new devolution deal with the “North of Tyne” region (Newcastle, North Tyne, Northumberland). This is a faintly ridiculous geography for such a deal, since it excludes Sunderland and, worse, Gateshead, which is, to most intents and purposes, simply the southern bit of Newcastle. But it’s a start, and will bring £600m more investment to the region. A new mayor will be elected in 2018.

Hammond’s speech contained other goodies for cites too, of course. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • £123m for the regeneration of the Redcar Steelworks site: that looks like a sop to Ben Houchen, the Tory who unexpectedly won the Tees Valley mayoral election last May;
  • A second devolution deal for the West Midlands: tat includes more money for skills and housing (though the sums are dwarfed by the aforementioned transport money);
  • A new local industrial strategy for Greater Manchester, as well as exploring “options for the future beyond the Fund, including land value capture”;
  • £300m for rail improvements tied into HS2, which “will enable faster services between Liverpool and Manchester, Sheffeld, Leeds and York, as well as to Leicester and other places in the East Midlands and London”.

Hammond also made a few promises to cities beyond England: opening negotiations for a Belfast City Deal, and pointing to progress on city deals in Dundee and Stirling.


A city that doesn’t get any big promises out of this budget is – atypically – London. Hammond promised to “continue to work with TfL on the funding and financing of Crossrail 2”, but that’s a long way from promising to pay for it. He did mention plans to pilot 100 per cent business rate retention in the capital next year, however – which, given the value of property in London, is potentially quite a big deal.

So at least that’s something. And London, as has often been noted, has done very well for itself in most budgets down the year.

Many of the other big regional cities haven’t. Yet Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby were all notable for their absence, both from Hammond’s speech and from the Treasury documents accompanying it.

And not one of them has a devolution deal or a metro mayor.

(If you came here looking for my thoughts on the housing element of the budget speech, then you can find them over at the New Statesman. Short version: oh, god.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook