Breaking down barriers in Spanish workplaces, British parks and your local Nando’s

Top of the Charts

Afternoon all,

Tempting as it was to stay put in the Alps, we’re back. Don’t all groan at once. Anyway, it’s not like you’ve all done a great job while I was away. Since we rolled off the Eurotunnel the news has run: “our planes can’t fly, our schools’ roofs can’t stay up, and our trains can’t go”. Whoever’s running the ‘Britain Isn’t Working’ ad campaign is smashing it out of the park.

In economics land there was some actually very good news this morning. The ONS have decided (“data revisions”…) that the UK did not in fact have a much slower recovery from the pandemic than other countries – significantly faster growth in 2021 than previously thought meant the economy was actually 0.6 per cent above its pre-pandemic level by the end of 2021 (vs 1.2 per cent below on the old numbers). We need that on the Great Britain ads.

In our most self-indulgent TOTCs for a while we’ve got reads on Parkrun and Nando’s, plus a chart on why the moron induced kissing scandal shouldn’t make us forget Spain’s transformation on gender in recent decades.

Have a good weekend.



Recession running. I love labour market chat and spend a fair chunk of Saturday mornings volunteering/running at the local Parkrun so this paper was always getting into TOTCs. Examining runners’ times for the weekly 5k run between 2004 and 2020 it asks whether the state of the labour market has an effect. In a downturn it appears people over 50 run faster, while younger working age people run slower (men 20-49 or women 20-29). The authors say this reflects offsetting effects: higher unemployment lowers income – which will reduce fitness – but also frees up time for more exercise. They argue the latter dominates for those closer to retirement, and the former for the younger types. So now I’m adding a slower Parkrun time to the reasons I don’t want the UK dipping into recession in the months ahead.

Nice Nando’s. No one lives in classless societies – even the Swedes I promise you. But how much do different income groups mix in daily activities? A different take on that old questions uses mobile phone location data from America to show that the further you are to either end of the income distribution, the more limited your social circle is – with the rich more ‘socially isolated’ than the poor (especially the urban rich). A chunk of this reflects people sticking close to home in neighbourhoods that are income segregated. The more interesting findings are on different types of venues’ roles in mixing. Some publicly provided locations do better (parks/libraries) than others (museums). And I know hating chain stores is popular but independent shops have much less diverse customers. The top location for cross class encounters? Cheaper chain restaurants. In the US that means Applebees – here I reckon we’re talking Nando’s.

Real retraining. I rarely see evidence showing that the very popular idea of adult retraining schemes actually work – mainly because most retraining schemes are rubbish (ie short, poor quality, not linked to employment). But a very encouraging counter-example comes from research on Denmark, where the state offers workers who suffer a physical injury at work support to take a bachelor degree if they wish. The sheer scale of the impact is what got me interested: workers reskilling in this way ended up earning 24 per cent more than before they got injured (vs the norm of big falls in earnings after injury or redundancy). The key appears to be the quality/duration of reskilling and that the degrees are built on workers’ previous experience (ie it’s a route to moving from a physical to a cognitive role in the same field, not starting from scratch). Forget making every 50 year old a coder, but builders can move into lots of other construction jobs.

Pension pondering. Auto-enrolling employees into pensions has been a triumph, but the lowest earners (earning under £10,000) are excluded because of worries many are better off not saving ie having more cash today. Calls for that threshold to be reduced/abolished are growing – because clearly many lower earners (two-thirds of whom are women) would benefit from saving more (and are missing out on employer pension contributions). A new paper from the Pensions Policy Institute attempts to put some numbers on the benefits/risks involved, broadly making the case for scrapping the £10,000 trigger because most low earners (~90 per cent) won’t be hurt by its removal (e.g they’re in a higher income household anyway so not facing a poverty risk or already pension saving). But it does spell out that there’s 300,000 people who might lose out. That needs weighing up against the winners, whose pension income would rise by 7 to 12 per cent on average. Policy making is choice making.

Precarious people. Our friends at the Living Wage Foundation have updated their work on insecure work in the UK. Have a read. There’s a slight fall in the numbers affected (6.1m down from 6.6m pre-pandemic) but the report shows too many British workers don’t have good work – as you’ll know because you’ve been paying attention. There’s a reminder of the puzzle of why even in a very tight labour market we’ve seen zero hours contracts increase recently. Plus the parts on volatile hours are especially valuable – having to work at short notice creates higher travel costs for 27 per cent and higher childcare costs for 17 per cent of those workers. Only 10 per cent of workers receive full pay for cancelled shifts. What can we actually do about this beyond national regulations? We’ve got a new report on Monday with plenty of ideas – come along to the launch.

Chart of the week

The Women’s Football World Cup got all the attention over August, before the attention shifted back to men –specifically one particularly objectionable man, Spanish FA President Luis Rubiales. The debacle has cast a shadow on Spain’s achievements – and not just of the footballing variety. By prompting lots of frothy commentary about Spanish machismo we risk forgetting that if anything Spain has been seeing remarkable progress on the gender front. So to redress the balance this week’s Chart – inspired by the always excellent Alice Evans – highlights the huge political and economic strides women have made in Spain since the overthrow of General Franco (and related discrediting of the Catholic Church). In the early 90s Spain had lower female workforce participation, and a higher gender pay gap, than the OCED average. But much faster social, economic and political change in Spain than elsewhere (hello Italy) has now reversed those positions. It turns out the Movida movement did more than inspire a few Pedro Almodóvar films. The Spanish patriarchy isn’t dead, but the country today has a greater share of female parliamentarians that the UK for example (an impressive 44 per cent). So progress in parliament, in workplaces and on the football pitch. It’s time the dinosaur bureaucrats caught up.