A new report by Centre for Cities, claims Birmingham has “levelled down” in the past ten years, as child poverty has increased and job opportunities have decreased. The city has also claimed the number one spot for unemployment claims.
We spoke to people living in and around Birmingham, who have highlighted the struggle of trying to survive on a basic wage. Many local people say they no longer earn enough to live comfortably, leaving them feeling hopeless for what’s to come.
Birmingham’s last decade of downgrade
In the past ten years, Birmingham has come up short in terms of upgrading as a city, especially since it is the second biggest city in the UK. Many locals seem to believe the city was on the right track but has fallen off in recent years. As Oliver said: “I think it went up and then down.”
The latest report by Centre for Cities shows that locals are £10,200 worse off than they would have been had the economy continued to grow at pre-2010s rates. This was evident as people reported having less money in their pocket than they used to.
Oliver again: “Things just used to stretch a lot further. I’ve got no pocket change now. I’m broke.”
The report also shows that overall job growth has been slow. It increased by 12.9% in ten years, placing Birmingham 28th in the UK in terms of growth. That compares badly to Luton – in top spot – where it grew by 30.5%.
With slow job growth and the population in Birmingham continuing to rise throughout the years, many believe competition for available jobs has become too much.
Unemployment grows in the city
A Birmingham City Council report showed in 2018 there were 1.14mn residents in the city and this is expected to grow to 1.18mn by 2028. If the job growth rate doesn’t pick up, there will inevitably be an increase in unemployment figures.
The Centre for Cities report showed that Birmingham already has the highest rate of unemployment claims, compared to any other city in the UK, with 6.9% of its population claiming out-of-work benefits.
This has left many people living from pay cheque to pay cheque, as they struggle to cope with rising prices.
Leroy has lived in the city for 45 years. He said: “Businesses are closing down, there is less people on the streets. It’s a big struggle right now, there isn’t nothing going on.”
With businesses closing down and an influx of people in the city, job opportunities are becoming all the more competitive. As David said: “Too many people competing for the same jobs all the time has left Birmingham with less opportunities than it used to have.”
Local DJ Daniel said: “There’s been a few venues that have shut down which just makes it harder and gives people less opportunities and that means everyone is trying to fight for the same places.”
Salaries not enough
Even if people do manage to get a job, things have become so difficult that they are still not able to live a comfortable life. As Daniel puts it: “The base salary wouldn’t be enough, I’d have to do side hustles or get another job.”
The report showed that, not only is there slow job growth, but productivity has also slowed down within those jobs that already exist.
Between 1998 and 2010, productivity across the UK saw an annual increase of 1.5%. But between 2010 and 2021, it plummeted to just 0.5% per year. And Birmingham falls below the average for the UK as a whole.
The statistics show that current jobs do not produce enough income to support the people who do them. Student nurse Jordan said: “I’m trying to study and live and it’s very difficult, we can’t live without working part time and full time.”
He continued: “Overseas nursing is looking very interesting. I could do the same job for three times the wage. I’m highly considering leaving the UK and I am not the only nurse thinking that right now.”
For some, Birmingham used to be the answer to the question of how to live on a low income. That no longer seems to be the case. As Oliver said: “I moved back to Birmingham from London to save money and I’m not able to save anything. If I didn’t live with my grandmother I wouldn’t be able to live.”
Immediate change needed
All of the above factors point to the need for immediate help to change the situation in the city, but one of the most alarming changes of the last decade has been the rise of child poverty in the West Midlands region.
In 2021, there were six UK cities where over a third of children in households were living in relative poverty – a dramatic rise from the figures in 2014. These cities are concentrated in the Midlands and the north of England: Bradford, Blackburn, Birmingham, Burnley, Derby and Leicester.
In the West Midlands region alone, there have been an additional 60,000 children living in relative poverty in the past ten years. Birmingham itself saw an increase of 10.2%, making it the sixth highest city in the UK for child poverty.
Daniel is 28 years old and would like to start thinking about having children but he said: “I don’t think it is possible to raise kids right now in Birmingham.” Father of two Leroy said: “You have to cut back, when you get kids, it’s not about you anymore. Sometimes you have to struggle just to survive.”
The report pinpoints the cause of the increase by saying: “Job growth without productivity growth has merely shifted poor households into work, rather than alleviating poverty altogether.”