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SEI brief

Decline of the United Kingdom’s steel industry: lessons from industrial transitions

This brief examines the long-term decline of the steel industry in the United Kingdom. It is part of a series that looks at historical cases involving the decline of major industrial or mining activities. The series aims to share lessons that might guide ongoing and future transitions, particularly those related to the decarbonization of regional economies.

Aaron Atteridge, Claudia Strambo / Published on 8 July 2021
Download  Read the brief / PDF / 1 MB

Atteridge, A. and Strambo, C. (2021). Decline of the United Kingdom’s steel industry: lessons from industrial transitions. SEI brief.

Redcar blast furnace at sunrise, Redcar, Cleveland, England

The Redcar blast furnace at sunrise, Redcar, Cleveland, England. Photo: Bee-Teerapol / Getty Images.

The British steel industry is today at the tail end of nearly 50 years of decline. In the early 1970s, at its peak production and employment, the industry employed around 320,000 people. The workforce has since declined dramatically, with just an estimated 5% to 10% as many workers in the industry 50 years later.

This brief examines the decline of the industry and its socio-economic implications. The ramifications of the industry’s decline include high direct job losses, indirect economic effects such as reduced wages and jobs losses in other businesses, and a legacy of environmental contamination.

The decline of the steel industry and its associated privatization dramatically changed industrial relations for workers.

Barriers to the reemployment of former steel workers include the wage differential between former and new jobs, as well as identity considerations.

Locally based organizations mandated to support job creation and economic activities in areas most affected by industrial decline are not enough to facilitate a transition. Instead, there is a need for the wider regional economic development policy landscape to support economic diversification through measures targeted to local needs and conditions.

The brief argues that new policies are needed to address the implications of industrial decline; at the same time, policies that may jeopardize regeneration outcomes need to be reconsidered as part of the transition response.

Measures that can facilitate industrial transition include supporting supply-chain businesses in finding new markets and adjusting their activities, regenerating urban areas, and raising the skill level of the work force to attract knowledge-based industries.


Read the brief / PDF / 1 MB

SEI authors

Claudia Strambo
Claudia Strambo

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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