BETTER public transport links and more opportunities for workers to raise their wages are vital to narrowing the gap and pushing the Leeds economy to success, despite the pressures of rising living costs which are hampering thousands of families.
That’s the view of one economics expert in the light of figures newly collated by the Yorkshire Evening Post, which reveal the stark toll of years of stagnating wages and a turbulent national economy on the lives of people across the city.
As our ‘Leeds cost of living index’ below shows, a number of other factors are contributing to families increasingly having to tighten their belts.
These include the ever-increasing costs of basics like food and utilities, and recently revealed research which showed that the average house price in Leeds is now SEVEN times the average salary.
However David Spencer, Professor of Economics and Political Economy at the University of Leeds, believes the city’s lack of an integrated public transport network - and a widening gap in opportunities which this could influence - could be an even more significant factor for many.
“House prices have certainly gone up significantly over the past 20 years,” he said.
“It’s more difficult [to compare cities] when it comes to things like staple basic items which I would suggest are probably the same anywhere in the UK.”
He believes that “how connected cities are” is also a vital part in the individual prosperity of their citizens.
“One disadvantage about Leeds is that it’s not got an integrated transport system like somewhere like Nottingham and Sheffield. It’s much more difficult to get around,” he said
“It certainly adds to cost I think. But there’s a time cost there as well. It takes longer to get to work, and you have got less availability in terms of alternatives.
“It has a real effect in terms of mobility and finding work as well. Places on the outskirts of Leeds could be isolated by a lack of transport links.”
He also noted that though the seven-to-one house price versus salary ratio in Leeds does sound “striking”, it also varies across the city.
“House prices in Hunslet for example are much lower than in Moortown, so that aggregate figure hides differences within the city,” he said.
Professor Spencer, who lives in Moortown, added that while a recently announced council tax increase of five per cent was understandably worrying for people in Leeds, the real issue was “why is council tax rising?”.
And he believes Leeds is, in many ways, making great strides to tackle the inevitable knock-on effects of a turbulent economy head on.
The YEP reported last year that a major council-backed inquiry had been told how the gap between the highest and lowest paid workers in Leeds is ever widening, with large chunks of the city’s total workforce stuck in a rut and unable to move up the career ladder.
The cross-party council watchdog panel set up to investigate the city’s economic growth progress and potential heard that Leeds was seeing an increase in high pay, high skilled jobs and “phenomenal” growth in its technological, digital, financial and legal sectors.
But low pay, low skill jobs were also on the rise - and years of stagnated wages were stopping thousands of people from progressing with “the rungs of the ladder...moving further apart”.
This was, in turn, holding the city’s economy back, the panel was told.
LEEDS COST OF LIVING FACTFILE
Sources: Numbeo.com/Leeds City Council/RAC Foundation/firstgroup.com/National Housing Federation
Average Leeds salary: £26,972
Unleaded - 119.1p per litre
Diesel - 123p per litre
Unleaded - 119.8 per litre
Diesel - 122.8 per litre
Unleaded - 101.7 per litre
Diesel - 102.5 per litre
FOOD AND DRINK
Litre of milk - 85p
Loaf of fresh white bread - 89p
Apples - £1.99kg
Bottle of wine (mid range) £6.75
Packet of cigarettes: £10
Single journey bus ticket: £2.50
Day rider: £4.30 (£4.10 when bought via app)
Weekly bus ticket: £16 (£15 via app)
Monthly bus ticket: £58.00 (£56 online/via app)
Water/Gas/Electric - combined monthly average for a small flat
Average cost of buying a house in Leeds £199,192 - SEVEN times the average salary in the city
Private: £801 (3 bed property outside city centre) or £1,084 (3 beds, in city centre)
Council tenants: Council has approved a rent decrease of 1 per cent from April.
BROADBAND AND PHONE
£255 - Average cost of a phone and unlimited broadband package
£150.50 for colour licence in 2018
£147 for colour licence in 2017
£145.50 for colour licence in 2016
The general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money stands at 3 per cent
The Bank of England has said it thinks inflation peaked at the end of 2017 and will fall back to its target of 2% this year.
Up 4.99 per cent from April
Rise adds around £80 a year to the bill for people in average Band D properties.
WHAT ELSE IS FORCING YOUR EVERYDAY LIVING COSTS UP?
COUNCIL TAX/GOVERNMENT CUTS: “Councils are under incredible pressure to fund services, and they face Government cuts which have in some ways forced them into the situation of having to put up council tax,” says Professor Spencer.
“There’s scope for changes in economic policy - to try and alleviate the situation in which councils find themselves in.”
BREXIT EFFECT: “The Brexit type effect is undoubtedly true.
“Import price is higher, which is feeding through to higher inflation.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty still around Brexit which leads to weakness in the pound, which leads to higher import prices.
“So it’s not domestically generated inflation, it’s more from imports. Resolving Brexit is going to help.”
LOW WAGES AND IN-WORK POVERTY: “There are issues there around the state of the economy and the rise of low paid work. These seem to be quite endemic problems.
“If you look at Leeds, there’s still a number of low paid workers within Leeds.
“If you are in those jobs with not much opportunity for progressing, and your wages are pretty stable and they are not rising by as much as inflation, you are going to face a lot of pressure.”
He said Leeds council’s Living Wage pledge for its own employees is a positive development, but it would be good if this could lead to “a campaign within the city to try and encourage other employers to follow suit as well...and not just park people on the minimum age”.
He adds that in terms of inward investment the city should try and ensure “that the jobs which are created are jobs which pay higher levels of wages and offer good prospects”.
“There are still marked inequalities within the city and stark differences between [inner city communities] and the more prosperous areas,” he says.
“I think Leeds in many ways is in a better position than a lot of cities because it does have some high paid jobs which others don’t.
“The financial and tech sector within Leeds gives it some ability to grow high paid jobs.
“But certainly [at the moment] that gap is not closing.”
CHANGING CONSUMER NEEDS: “Because the services which we regard as necessary for life evolve over time, and those things have a price, we have to then pay for those things.
“The range of goods and services available has also increased significantly over the last 20 years, so there are so many more restaurants, more cinemas, more supermarkets, more gas and electricity providers. There is choice.
“The Office for National Statistics has a basket of representative goods, and it’s interesting to see how that has evolved over time.
“A digital media player (for example Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV) now are included as part of that.
“We wouldn’t have dreamt of that 20 years ago, but now it’s seen as a basic requirement for living in 21st century Britain.”