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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Brexit is an opportunity for cities to take back control

Leeds Town Hall. Image: Getty.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council on the future of Britain’s cities.

As the negotiations about the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU continue, Britain’s most economically powerful cities outside London are arguing that the UK can be made stronger for Brexit – by allowing cities to “take back control” of service provision though new powers and freedoms

Core Cites UK, the representative voice of the cities at the centre of the ten largest economic areas outside London, has just launched an updated version of our green paper, ‘Invest Reform Trust’. The document calls for radical but deliverable proposals to allow cities to prepare for Brexit by boosting their productivity, and helping to rebalance the economy by supporting inclusive economic growth across the UK.

Despite representing areas responsible for a quarter of the UK’s economy and nearly a third of exports, city leaders have played little part in the development of the government’s approach to Brexit. Cities want a dialogue with the government on their Brexit plans and a new settlement which sees power passing from central government to local communities.

To help us deliver a Brexit that works for the UK’s cities, we are opening a dialogue with the EU Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to share our views of the Brexit process and what our cities want to achieve.

Most of the changes the Core Cities want to see can already be delivered by the UK. To address the fact that the productivity of UK cities lags behind competitors, we need to think differently and begin to address the structural problems in our economy before Brexit.

International evidence shows that cities which have the most control over taxes raised in their area tend to be the most productive.  The UK is significantly out of step with international competitors in the power given to cities and we are one of the most centralised countries in the world.  


Boosting the productivity of the UK’s Core Cities to the UK national average would increase the country’s national income by £70-£90bn a year. This would be a critical boost to the UK’s post-Brexit economic success.

Our green paper is clear that one-size fits all policy solutions simply can’t deal with the complexities of 21st century Britain. We need a place-based approach that looks at challenges and solutions in a different way, focused on the particular needs of local communities and local economies.

For example, our Core Cities face levels of unemployment higher than the national average, but also face shortages of skilled workers.  We need a more localised approach to skills, education and employment support with greater involvement from local democratic and business leaderships to deliver the skills to support growth in each area.

The UK will only make a success of Brexit if we are able to increase our international trade. Evidence shows city to city networks play an important role in boosting international trade.  The green paper calls for a new partnership with the Department of International trade to develop an Urban Trade programme across the UK’s cities and give cities more of a role in international trade missions.

To deliver economic growth that includes all areas of the UK, we also need to invest in our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure of roads, rail telecommunications and so forth, but also our health, education and care infrastructure, ensuring that we are able to unlock the potential of our core assets, our people.

Whether you think that Brexit is a positive or a negative thing for the UK, it is clear that the process will be a challenging one.  Cities have a key role to play in delivering a good Brexit: one that sees local communities empowered and economic prosperity across all areas of the UK.

Cllr Judith Blake is leader of Leeds City Council.