Cities, the Social Economy and Inclusive Growth

Middlesex University London, commissioned by Joseph Rowntree Foundation

This study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examined the actual and potential roles of the social economy in bringing about inclusive growth that generates more and better jobs in UK cities, particularly for people who are either in – or at risk of – poverty. The research, which was conducted in partnership with researchers at the Open University, involved a review of the international academic and policy literature, and case study examples of social economy development in 14 international and 10 UK city regions. It was also informed by roundtable discussions held with stakeholders and experts in Cardiff, Glasgow and Sheffield.

Key points:

  • The social economy constitutes a range of organisations that have a core social mission, different levels of participative and democratic control by members, and use financial surpluses or profits primarily to achieve their social missions. These include social and community enterprise; voluntary and community sector organisations; housing associations; co-operatives and mutuals; informal self‑help initiatives; social finance and support providers; and alternative business models.
  • The social economy accounts for about 6.5% of European employment. In some countries, such as Sweden, Belgium, Italy, France and the Netherlands, it accounts for between 9% and 11.2%. In the UK, the contribution to employment is relatively low at 5.6%, mostly from the voluntary and community sector (82%). Yet, these data are likely to underestimate the true size of the social economy.
  • Relative to comparable countries in Europe, the UK appears to have a strong voluntary and community sector and a growing social enterprise sector, but fewer organisations with alternative governance models, such as co-operatives, or employee-owned businesses.
  • There are three broad clusters of activity whereby the social economy has been shown to promote inclusive growth: (1) Creating jobs, strengthening skills and employability; (2) Building diversified local economies; (3) Contributing to wider economic and institutional transformation.
  • Analysis of current policy and practice identified areas where UK cities appear to lag behind some of the international city cases, as well as examples of good practice and future potential.
  • Successful social economy development often arises from an enabling context, or social economy ‘ecosystem’ of various elements of support provision and a high level of collaboration between actors, both within the social economy and the public and private sectors.

The full report can be found here: