Nowhere is feeling the economic and social impact of Covid-19 more than UK’s cities and largest towns. They account for around 60% of the country’s economic output and more than half of the population.
Once the immediate crisis is over, the Government will need to consider how it can help the towns and cities most economically affected by Coronavirus rebuild their economies.
Blackburn continues to be the city with the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases in the past week, with 90 confirmed cases per 100,000 population. Bradford has recorded 48 cases per 100,000 population, and has now overtaken Leicester which has 47 confirmed cases. Leicester has experienced a local lockdown and has seen its cases continue to drop.
The tracker shows that a gap is now widening between cities. The trajectories can be classified in four categories: In some urban areas, daily cases are still increasing rapidly and are relatively high- places like Bradford or Swindon.
In others, like Crawley, Barnsley, Coventry, numbers are less high but these cities are experiencing a bounce back in the number of cases, from a relatively low point.
We see, however, a sharp decrease in the number of daily cases in cities like Doncaster, Leicester or Stoke. Finally, in another group of cities, cases per population are plateauing at a relatively low level — that is the case in Gloucester.
The lockdown policies that the Government have introduced to slow the spread of Coronavirus have had a huge economic impact. Some parts of the country will feel the negative effects more acutely than others.
Places with stronger highly-skilled information-based economies – mostly in the Greater South East – have been able to more easily adapt to working from home, ensuring that some parts the economy continues to function. However, other areas – mostly in the North and Midlands – with weaker low-skill service-based economies have been less able to do this.
They also have larger proportions of low-skilled self-employed people and the market for their services has shrunk significantly during this pandemic. They may receive less Government support once this crisis is over.
These outside the Greater South East will require more direct Government interventions to support their economies once the immediate public-health crisis is over.
In total, 2.7 million people are now claiming unemployment benefits, an increase of 1.4 million from March. Every city and large town as seen an increase in unemployment since the beginning of lockdown. While it first hit towns and cities in northern England, places in the south are now catching up.
Luton, Slough and Blackpool have seen the largest increases in unemployment since lockdown began. Meanwhile, cities and towns in predominantly in southern England and The Midlands have seen smaller increases in unemployment. Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Aberdeen and York have seen some of the smallest increases in unemployment since March.
As of mid-June Crawley, Burnley, Sunderland and Slough have the largest shares of people being paid by the Government’s furlough scheme.
In the medium term, as many as one in five jobs in cities and large towns could be at risk of redundancy or furloughing, and those reliant on the aviation industry, such as Crawley and Derby, are likely to be hardest hit. These areas are also the places most likely to be worst affected if the Job Retention Scheme is withdrawn too soon.
Once the public health crisis has ended, policymakers must develop a long-term response which recognises that the economic damage done by Coronavirus will be felt differently across the country.
Without a place-focussed economic response, the geographic inequalities that we saw before the Coronavirus will become even more entrenched, and the Prime Minister’s mission to level up the country will even harder to achieve.
While many people in the Greater South East have now shifted to working from home. Our research suggests that they have less living space per person to do this. People in cities have around 35.3 square metres per person on average – less than people living in non-urban areas. These differences across the country are widened by the shortage of housing in expensive cities, resulting in falling amounts of floorspace for people in certain places. Ordinarily, the amenities and work opportunities created by stronger cities’ economies would mean that a lack of space matters less. But this becomes a bigger problem when people cannot leave their home.
On the whole, we see that the city centre workers had responded before the Prime Minister announced what has become known as the lockdown, on Tuesday 24 March, especially in London. The scale and the pace of this response was biggest in the largest cities and in particular those with the strongest city centre economies.
For now, the pandemic seems to be concentrated mainly in cities. Because the population in urban areas lives more densely, cities have a greater potential to turn into hotspots for the contagion and diffusion of disease. But looking at age and health characteristics shows significant differences in the size of “at risk” populations (those who are older or with health conditions) between the country’s largest cities and towns. This suggests that some places are more vulnerable than others.
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Some cities will have more people working at home – but have less space while doing so.
Uncertainty for self-employed people, home-working and the importance of agglomeration – the impact of Coronavirus on employment will be felt differently across the UK
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The scale and density of cities means that they offer more choice - not just for work but also play.
Some commentators have suggested that Covid will do in a couple of months what governments have tried to do for the last 80 years. This is very unlikely.
Cities are using their knowledge of their local area to support people train and find a job, but the support they can provide is limited by red tape.
Covid-19 has posed similar challenges to these cities, but has elicited very different responses.
The conversation about Coronavirus is mostly focussed on economic recovery. But not all urban areas are at the same stage of their fight against the virus.
Buses have demonstrated that they are the essential public transport during the pandemic. Now central government, cities and bus operators must build a compact to deliver a successful National Bus Strategy.
The increase of the threshold on stamp duty is most likely to encourage movement in cities in the Greater South East as well as giving homeowners in this area the greatest benefit.
The latest data shows that while no city or large town has high-take up of Job Retention Scheme but low claimant count, many do have high unemployment claims and lower levels of people on furlough.
In the UK, competition for jobs has risen most in places where work was already hardest to find, raising concerns about widening geographic inequality.
Footfall data suggests that while smaller cities did see busy high streets, activity was sluggish in larger cities.