Beyond (Un)employment Session 3
Pictures in Data

For our third Beyond (un)employment learning session on Wednesday 24th May, the focus was on building up pictures using data, discovering and getting to grips with some of what the statistics are telling us about our city. This was a practical session packed with research and discussion, with the cohort self-organising around topics of interest to them, identified through a personal written exercise to identify potential lines of enquiry by responding to the following headings:

Sources that have affirmed my own assumptions about work / (un)employment in Birmingham.
Sources that have challenged my own assumptions about work / (un)employment in Birmingham.
Things I am starting to learn about work / (un)employment in Birmingham.
Something / things I really want to explore further at this point.

How do groups interpret what’s around them and what do they think is important? What do we, as a group, not pick up on at all – what’s missing?

Definitions, Data & Our City’s Challenges

Following this, our very own Andy Reeve (Impact Hub Birmingham Co-Founder, Director of Finance & Urban Economics) shared some overarching statistics he had pulled together on the broadest theme of employment in Birmingham and the UK. He visualised rates of pay, number of claimants, unemployment figures and more, and these graphs and trends immediately gave the group a lot of questions around definitions and data.

  • Definition is important – it may not be the data that is changing, but rather the definition
  • Everybody aged 16 or over is either employed, unemployed or economically inactive.
  • What about the economically inactive who want a job but aren’t classed as unemployed e.g. those unemployed for more than 4 weeks. Where are they being capturing within the job market?
  • How will the relationship between being economically active and inactive start to change?
  • We see a shifting landscape – less people retiring; declining employment in public sector
  • Are we working harder or are we just working longer?

Key Learnings

This process was useful to gain insights into how this work should or should be approached. Here are some key learnings shared within the group.

  • There is higher unemployment in Birmingham than the wider West Midlands.
  • Gross Value Added – The amount of extra revenue Birmingham has created for the country has flatlined since 1997. What is missing in the Brum economy to stop us being as productive as possible?
  • The average earnings in Birmingham are £97 a week, compared to £540 a week for UK.
  • If everyone working in Birmingham was earning the UK average it would mean an £1 billion extra going into the economy.

“I found yesterday’s session enlightening. Whilst I was aware that Birmingham had areas with the worst unemployment, I hadn’t realised just how many stats we came bottom of the table – low pay in particular.” – Lindsay, Beyond (un)employment Birmingham Cohort

“The more you look at one statistic, the more you have to look at where the information came from, when, and what definition are they using. I’m learning a lot about the nature of numbers.” – Andrew, Beyond (un)employment Birmingham Cohort

Whilst digesting data (and pizza), the next stage was for the cohort to take the overarching presented data from Andy, along with a whole host of other resources such as articles, studies and reports brought together around Birmingham / UK (un)employment, and explore a strand of enquiry together in small groups before presenting these back to the collective. This related back to the first activity around shifting sources that have confirmed or challenged our own assumptions, and evolving these into Things I am starting to learn and Things I really want to explore further at this point.

Group 1: Most Deprived Local Authority Figures

Anneka, Dave, Eydritt, Nick, Tracy

– Percentage of residents not employed in Hodge Hill is 52%, highest of all Birmingham constituencies (average 38%)
– Comparing long term sickness or disability, higher in Shard End than Moseley / Kings Heath.
– Using RSA document to explore: what is the cost of that level of people not in work / not a good fit for jobs they have found?
– Presenteeism has a cost to both mental and physical health.
– ‘Good work is critical to good health.’ Ill health costs £100billion to UK, presenteeism costs £15billion.
– Most vulnerable are men with mid level qualifications such as A-Levels.
– Robots would be paid for what they accomplish, not for being there, which may transcend to human pay.

Group 2: Unemployment and Number of Claimants

Andrew, Bryan, Maniba, Thom

– More than half of people in the UK who identify as unemployed are not claiming benefit now, whereas moments in 1985, 1993 were nearly 100%.
– Why is this? Does this show it’s too hard / too shameful now?
– Jarvis Cocker said: “Back in his day the dole was basically arts council funding.”

– Interested in the experience of the survey: what is it like to interview / be interviewed in this way?
– Data gathered by International Labour Organisation, through a standardised survey in over 200 different countries.

– Creates more faith / knowledge in meaning of (un)employment because there’s an international standard, but it’s complicated.
– Every survey has these issues, but international comparison still makes the outcomes useful. Policy can change around it.
– Easy access to survey questions, we could find out about things quite quickly if we wanted to know about them.

Group 3: Why is Birmingham Employment So Bad Compared With Elsewhere?

Dan, Colin, Diana, Lindsay, Rebecca, Tara

– Do we have the right people for the jobs we have?
– Birmingham is 10% below national average in lots of stats, number with no qualifications, NEET etc.
– Not training people up has created replacement demand in some industries such as construction.
– Schools the start of the problem; taught to put up and shut up.
– Large employers leaving, migrant population… other factors.
– Do we have the right jobs for the people we have?
– International competition, gentrification crowding out tradition.
– Things we need to know: Role of organisations delivering change (BCC), businesses running without ambition, changes in policy, attitude of people.
– Making it real: case studies such as Longbridge, Jewellery Quarter.

Group 4: Unemployment in Different Areas of the City

Holly, Kate, Sophia, Ted

– Enduring patterns of deprivation and joblessness correlates to low qualifications.
– Geography matters, east sides across Europe are always poorer, prevailing winds, rubbish dumps etc. What is the health implication?
– What is needed for shift in health / wellbeing that is community-led that helps us move out of this disparate split across the city?
– How do we get that infrastructure right?

– Geological fault between bullring and Digbeth, all animals are aware of geological faults as outside of their habitat.


“I believe that there is paid work that exists which is above the living wage, but it is about who you know. This is why in my opinion there are greater pockets of unemployment in certain parts of the country. Many people do not understand the system of networking in order to pass the skill onto their children. There is also disparity in the information that young people are given in certain schools dependant on where in the class structure their parents are. I would like to explore ‘the hidden jobs market’, networking and ways of creating meaningful paid work through systems thinking.” – Deborah, Beyond (un)employment Birmingham Cohort

This session acted as an important step in encouraging self-organisation within the cohort, as well as identifying areas of interest within individuals and collectively, beginning to connect with the (un)employment reality in our city. We’re excited to move these learnings forward together next time.

To get a low down on this session there is a video below capturing the thoughts of Maniba, Bryan, Nick & Ted at the end of our third session together.

To follow along with updates from the programme visit:
or drop your comments, ideas or links into the form below to have your say, and feed into the conversations started in this session.

Live illustrations by Katie Tomlinson.
Photography & videography by Paul Stringer.