Cities are places of opportunity. Thanks to their ability to attract high-skilled jobs and firms, they are the main drivers of economic growth and living standards across the country. In recent years the most successful cities have been the ones that have been particularly good at attracting these high-skilled exporting businesses.1

But ’success’ does not always simply mean economic growth, and policymakers are increasingly concerned with ‘inclusive’ growth too. Leaders from both ends of the political spectrum have put inclusive growth at the heart of their political campaigns, and city leaders up and down the country named inclusive growth as one of their top priorities.2

Yet, while there is widespread consensus on the challenges to be addressed, little is known about the ways in which places can provide economic outcomes for those at the bottom end of the labour market, and the central role cities can play in understanding the causes of and providing solutions to, poverty and inequality.

To support national and local policy-makers to create a more inclusive economy, this report looks at the role cities play in creating job opportunities for low-skilled people. It firstly provides a picture of the distribution of low-skilled people and jobs across the country. Secondly, it looks at how the economic outcomes for the low-skilled vary in different cities and the reasons behind these differences. Thirdly, it analyses a number of policy options for national and local policymakers to consider when developing inclusive growth strategies.

Box 1: What does this report mean by ‘low skilled’?

In this report, low skilled is defined as:

  • Low-skilled people: any individuals with no or level 1 qualifications – equivalent to 1-4 GCSE grades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G.
  • Low-skilled jobs: any occupations falling in the Standard Occupational Classifications (SOCs) 7, 8 9, i.e. any sales and customer services occupations, process, plant and machine operatives and any elementary occupations. These three occupational groups are identified to be those with the least qualifications required. This is not a definition based on pay, rather it is based on the jobs most easily accessible by those with few or no qualifications.



  • 1 Swinney P. (2018) ‘The Wrong Tail’, London: Centre for Cities
  • 2 Beden R., Ramuni L., Wilcox Z. and Arntzen S. (2018) ‘Urban Voices: UK City Leaders’ Survey 2018’, London: Centre for Cities
  • 3 https://www.gov.uk/what-different-qualification-levels-mean/list-of-qualification-levels