Colleagues reunited

Top of the Charts

Afternoon all,

Well that was a smoothly executed reshuffle. From painful experience I promise you the baseline for these things is a mixture of excruciating social awkwardness and total chaos. It broadly happening to plan (bar a bit of Raab wrangling) is a triumph. The No10 operation will be satisfied with the job they’ve done, even if lots of Tory MPs aren’t satisfied with the jobs they’ve got. Rather more important is the job satisfaction of British workers, on which we’ve got some fascinating new research out on Monday as part of our Economy 2030 Inquiry. It digs into how our views of our jobs – from our satisfaction with them, to the stress of doing them – have changed over the past three decades.

Come along to the launch event. You can do so online or even in person, because this week was actually a big moment in Resolution land with the team back in the office hybrid-style. Which gives me the appropriate excuse to say a huge thank you to all of them for the unbelievable amount of hard work over the 18 months of this pandemic charting the very uneven impact of the crisis and proposing policies to help get the country through it. On a rather smaller scale, hopefully this week’s reads will get you through any dull meetings this afternoon – whether they’re over Zoom or not.

Have a great weekend all,

Torsten Bell
Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation


Polluted politics. The issue of air pollution has driven much of the political salience around climate change (parents are anxious about what their children breath). But maybe air pollution has an even more direct effect on our politics: variations in air quality on polling day affect how we vote according to a new study. Examining German election results, the authors find that going to the polls amid higher levels of air pollution results in fewer votes for the incumbent candidate – a high pollution day reduces the incumbents vote share by two percentage points, and increase those of the main opposition by nearly three percentage points. Now these are big claims, but the authors aren’t claiming voters consciously change their votes because they care about air quality. Instead they argue air pollution affects our emotions – making us more anxious and unhappy, which reduces support for politics as usual. So, if you want to win re-election, shut down factories on polling day.

Early poverty. A sobering new report from our Nuffield Foundation friends on the experience of child poverty is worth your time. I’d particularly highlight two findings that are crucial to understanding the nature of 21st century child poverty. First, poverty rates are highest among families with the youngest children in them (over one-in-three children in families where the youngest child is under five live in poverty). Second, poverty has been rising fast among larger families (half of families with young children in poverty now have more than two children). These trends are about social/economic change, but also policy that has seen benefit cuts reduce the living standards of the youngest children and larger families the most. And that’s before we cut Universal Credit by £20 a week – see COTW.

Migration motivations. You should read everything Alan Manning (until recently Chair of the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee) writes on migration. That includes a new co-authored paper exploring the demand for migration (big picture it’s up with the migrant share of rich countries populations rising from 9 to 15 per cent since 1990). Richer people are more likely to want to migrate from poorer countries, while poorer people express more of a desire to do so in richer countries. The research also gets into the complex debate about how country’s income levels affect migration, with policy makers often arguing that rich countries need to help poorer countries develop in order to reduce migration flows. The research shows that, among poorer countries, levels of national income make little difference to how much people would like to emigrate (there is a negative relationship amongst higher-income countries). The main effect of National Income is on which countries people want to migrate to (i.e. they prefer ones with high GDP/capita). So the key takeaway for those desperate to get migration down? You might need to make your own country poorer.

Disconnected workers. It’s not just the Foundation getting (a bit) back to the office this week – everyone’s at it. And a new paper helps explain why, despite the blindingly obvious downside: commuting. It examines the work patterns of thousands of Microsoft employers during pandemic-induced home working, showing workers’ networks even within their firm becoming more fixed and siloed. We could get our day jobs done, but got into habits of working with the same people and interacting less with other parts of our organisations (the kind of interactions that aid creativity but also overcome the limitations of formal communication channels). Hybrid working is the future, so hopefully we’ll combine the well-being benefits of more home working/choice with what has been very sorely missing: human contact.

Long Covid. There’s lots we don’t know about what the world post-pandemic will look like. Take long Covid. How significant this is matters hugely for many of those affected, but also for what the lasting effect of the pandemic is on the public finances and economy (e.g if it reduces labour supply). However, its scale is very uncertain – so it’s good to read new ONS work bringing together what data can tell us. They estimate that somewhere between 3 and 12 per cent of those who catch Covid-19 still have symptoms 12 weeks later – crucially the higher end of that range rests on people’s self-assessment that they are experiencing long Covid, while the lower one comes from a study tracking people’s symptoms. That tells you something about the rows to come – when these long Covid cases meet the minefield that is our disability benefits system.

Chart of the Week

Amid reshuffle dramas, politicians have been voting on the some big policy changes this week. First up on Tuesday, the Health and Social Care Levy – the £14 billion National Insurance-based tax rise – passed its second reading amid much backbench frothing, but little actual rebellion. The froth is focused on the injustices the policy has built in and the income losses the tax rise will cause. But the scale of losses – which peak at over 1 per cent of disposable income among richer households for the employee part of the NI rise – are nothing compared to the losses associated with the coming cut to Universal Credit, which featured in a symbolic opposition day debate on Wednesday. These losses are concentrated among the poorest households in Britain. Incomes of poorer households will fall by around 4 per cent. If you focus in on those households directly affected, it rises to 10 per cent for the one million hardest hit households. With inflation rising and higher energy bills coming from 1 October, now is not the time to be cutting vital income support to around five million households. But that appears to be exactly what we’re doing.