How we work

Page last updated: 2019 - due to be refreshed in 2022.

1 Five key points       

  1. In Suffolk, the employment rate is higher than the national average. In the year to December 2018, 365,200 people in Suffolk were in employment, meaning that nearly 4 in 5 adults of working age were in work (78.5%). (3.1 employment rate
  2. Earnings in Suffolk are lower than the national average. On average, people who work in Suffolk earn £58 per week less than workers in England as a whole. (3.9 earnings and income)  
  3. In March 2018 there were nearly 30,000 businesses in Suffolk. Nearly 9 in 10 businesses were small, with less than ten employees and a further 1 in 10 had less than 50 employees. Some of the largest Suffolk employers include the public sector, the Port of Felixstowe and British Telecom (BT). (3.3 businesses
  4. Historically, Suffolk has had a lower unemployment rate compared to national levels. The most recent figures for the year ending December 2018 continue this trend; unemployment in Suffolk is 3.7% compared to 4.1% for England. (3.7 unemployment rate
  5. Compared to the UK, Suffolk has a greater proportion of employment in industries involving manual occupations such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction. Well represented employment sectors across Suffolk include the energy industry, transport and storage, and tourism – the value of tourism in Suffolk is estimated at £2 billion. (3.4 industries)

2 Why is work important in Suffolk?  

In 2006, the UK Government commissioned an independent review of the evidence on the relationship between work, health and wellbeing.[1] The authors reported a strong evidence base showing that work is generally good for physical and mental health and wellbeing; worklessness is associated with poorer physical and mental health and wellbeing. Work can be therapeutic and can reverse the adverse health effects of previous unemployment. This is true for healthy people of working age, for many disabled people, for most people with common health problems and for social security beneficiaries. Overall, the beneficial effects of work outweigh the risks and are greater than the harmful effects of long term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence. The report authors concluded that work is generally good for health and wellbeing.

Unemployment is associated with poorer health satisfaction and an increased risk of physical and mental ill health.[2],[3] There are relationships between unemployment and higher self-reported ill health, limiting long term illness and increased prevalence of risky health behaviours including alcohol use and smoking. Links between unemployment and poor mental health are in part explained by the psychosocial effects of unemployment: stigma, isolation and loss of self-worth. People with long term psychiatric problems are less likely to be in employment than those with long term physical disabilities, despite indications that most people with severe mental illness would like to work.

Poverty can increase the chances of experiencing ill health. People living in more deprived communities in Suffolk will, on average, live shorter lives and experience greater physical and mental ill health than those in the less deprived communities. Poor health can also drive poverty; experiencing ill health makes it harder to find and stay in work. Poor health adversely impacts an individual’s ability to enjoy the financial and social advantages of being in work and to share in the benefits of local economic growth.

Healthy individuals are generally more productive workers and have lower rates of absenteeism. Improving the health and wellbeing of Suffolk’s working age population can help to increase local economic growth by getting more people into work and increasing business productivity levels. Good employment opportunities, as opposed to low skilled career limiting jobs, are often a key component of high quality of life for individuals. Helping people into better quality jobs therefore helps them and can save money for the wider public sector. High quality employment reduces both the long term demand for healthcare and the cost of welfare payments. Additionally, it can drive increased tax and business rate revenues, which in turn makes investment in key services more affordable.

The health and wellbeing of Suffolk’s working age population and the local economy are intrinsically linked. Wellbeing at work is a critical economic issue and pursuing an inclusive economic growth agenda should help to ensure that the benefits of growth are available to all, including those who most need them. Being in work is good for both wealth and health; that is, financial security alongside physical and mental wellbeing.

3 What is the local picture?        

Throughout this section, unless otherwise stated, the working age population is defined as residents aged 16-64 years.

3.1 Employment rate

In Suffolk, both the employment rate and economically active rate are consistently higher than the England average.[4] In the year to December 2018, 365,200 people in Suffolk (aged 16+) were employed, which corresponds to an employment rate among the working age (16-64) population of nearly 4 in 5 (78.5%). This is statistically significantly higher than the England rate of 75.4% (Table 1). The economically active rate includes not only people who are employed but also those who are unemployed and seeking employment. Among the working age population, the economically active rate is statistically significantly higher in Suffolk (81.6%) than England (78.7%). 

This is a positive picture for Suffolk because high levels of overall employment are crucial for inclusive growth. However, with an older age profile than most areas of the Country, Suffolk has a lower proportion of people of working age.

Table 1: Number and proportion of the working age population (16-64 years) by employment status, Suffolk, East of England, England, 2017/18[4]

Employment status

Suffolk (count)

Suffolk (%)

East (%)

England (%)

 Economically active  357,100 81.6% 80.8% 78.7%
 In employment  343,500 78.5% 78.0% 75.4%
 Employees  291,800 66.7% 66.3% 64.2%
 Self-employed  51,100 11.7% 11.5% 10.9%
 Unemployed  13,600 3.8% 3.5% 4.2%

Source: Office for National Statistics. (2018). Annual Population Survey.

Variation exists in the employment rate/economic activity rate by certain population characteristics:

  • Age: The economic activity rate is highest among the people aged 25-49 years, with 9 in 10 Suffolk residents in this age group economically active. 72.8% of 16-24 year olds and 50-64 year olds are economically active in the County.[5]

  • Gender: The employment rate among males in Suffolk is around 10% higher than for females, which is similar to the gap found across the East of England and England. Around 9 in 10 (88.5%) part-time workers in Suffolk are female. Nearly half (45.7%) employed women in Suffolk work part-time, whereas just 1 in 13 (7.7%) men work part-time.[5]

  • Health status: The gap in the employment rate between people with a long term health condition and the overall population is statistically significantly lower for Suffolk (8.2%) than England (11.5%). However, people with a long term condition are still less likely to be in employment.[6]

  • District/borough: The male employment rate is significantly above the England level in St Edmundsbury and Suffolk Coastal. The female employment rate is significantly higher than the England average for Suffolk as a whole, but the rate in Forest Heath is significantly lower (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Employment rate by sex and district, Suffolk districts/boroughs, England 2018[2]

Figure 1: Employment rate by gender & district, Suffolk districts/boroughs, England 2018

Source: Office for National Statistics, “Annual Population Survey,” NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2018.

3.2 Job density

Job density measures the number of jobs per residents of working age. Jobs are located in a given area, but they can be filled by residents or by workers who commute into the area.  In 2016, job density in Suffolk was 0.83, which is similar to England (0.84).[5] St Edmundsbury (0.98) and Ipswich (0.88) had the highest job densities in Suffolk, which is consistent with the urban centres of Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich. Forest Heath and Waveney had the lowest job density. Although the job density in Suffolk is in line with the national rural average, it is 1.6 times lower than the national urban average.

3.3 Businesses

There were 29,970 businesses (enterprises) in Suffolk (March 2018).[7] Nearly 9 in 10 (88.3%) businesses were defined as micro (0-9 employees) and nearly 1 in 10 (9.7%) were small (10-49 employees). Of the remaining 2.0% of businesses, 465 were medium (50-249 employees) and 110 were large (250+ employees). Some of the largest Suffolk employers include the public sector, the Port of Felixstowe, and British Telecom (BT). The distribution of business sizes in Suffolk is comparable to regional and national figures.

3.4 Industries

In 2017/18, the breakdown of employment by sector was broadly similar in Suffolk to the East of England and the UK. The County has a greater proportion of employment in industries involving manual occupations such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction, and a lower proportion of employment in banking, finance and insurance (Figure 2). This may have long term health implications because manual occupations have been linked with an increased risk of early mortality.[8]

Several employment sectors are well represented across Suffolk and offer an important contribution to the job market. The insurance firms based in Ipswich and the BT research facility and associated Innovation Hub in Suffolk Coastal offer highly skilled employment. Centre Parcs in Forest Heath, and the tourism industry more generally, bring people to the County who consume goods and services. The value of tourism in Suffolk is estimated to be £2 billion.[9] The Sizewell Nuclear Power station and companies servicing the growing offshore wind energy sites mean Suffolk is a focus for energy industries. The transport and storage industry is also a big employer. The Port of Felixstowe is Britain’s biggest and busiest container port, and one of the largest in Europe.[10] The Port of Ipswich is one of the leading grain export facilities in the UK.[11] Manufacturing is represented by employers including Adnams, Bernard Matthews and Birds Eye in Waveney, Greene King and British Sugar in St Edmundsbury, Aspall and Muntons in Mid Suffolk and Copella/Tropicana/Pepsico, Philips Avent (due to close in 2020 with the loss of 430 jobs[12]) and Delphi Diesel Systems in Babergh. Jobs are created by the presence of military bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall and the horse racing industry centred around Newmarket.

Figure 2: Proportion of employment by Standard Industrial Classification sector, Suffolk, East of England, UK, 2017/18[4]

Figure 2. Proportion of employment by Standard Industrial Classification sector, Suffolk, East of England, England, 2017/18
Source: Office for National Statistics. (2018). Annual Population Survey.

3.5 Occupations

In 2017/18, employment in Suffolk was more concentrated in lower-skilled occupations and skilled trade occupations than in the East of England and the UK (Figure 3).  The proportion of Suffolk residents working in professional occupations (15.0%) was lower than England (20.2%).[4] This occupational profile is consistent with the lower than average earnings profile among Suffolk workers.

Figure 3. Proportion of employment by Standard Occupational Classification sector, Suffolk, East of England, UK, 2017/18[4]

Figure 3. Proportion of employment by Standard Occupational Classification sector, Suffolk, East of England, England, 2017/18
Source: Office for National Statistics. (2018). Annual Population Survey.

A recent review of local labour markets by the think tank Localis[13] placed the Suffolk labour market at high risk in relation to four measures that they considered. Suffolk was ranked 45th out of 47 strategic authorities, with the County facing pressures caused by its exposure to an ageing population, potential migrant labour supply shortage due to Brexit, potential job losses due to the automation of manual jobs and an inadequate skill base.[13]

3.6 Apprenticeships

In 2016/17, more than 6,000 apprenticeships were initiated in Suffolk. The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership sees robust, good quality apprenticeships, especially at advanced, higher level and degree level, as having a key role in aligning quality training with economic need and providing clear entry points and pathways into local industry. The LEP has set targets for growth including 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2019.[14]

3.7 Unemployment rate

The unemployment rate is the proportion of people of working age without a job who are actively seeking work. Suffolk has historically had an unemployment rate lower than that of the UK. In 2018, the unemployment rate in Suffolk was 3.7% compared to 3.5% across the Eastern region and 4.1% for England. Within Suffolk, unemployment is generally concentrated in Suffolk’s major towns of Ipswich and Lowestoft and to a lesser extent the market towns.[4]

3.8 Economic inactivity

Individuals of working age (16-64) who are neither employed/self-employed nor looking for work are classified as being economically inactive. In 2018, of the 80,600 people in Suffolk recorded as economically inactive, just above 1 in 4 people (27.0%; 21,800 people) look after their family/home  (compared to 24.4% England average).[5] Suffolk also has a higher proportion of economically inactive people who are retired compared to England (21.1% v 12.9%), that is 17,000 retirees aged between 16-64 years (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Economic activity status for the working age (16-64) population in Suffolk, 2018[5]

Figure 4. Economic activity status for the working age population in Suffolk, 2018


Source: Office for National Statistics. (2018). NOMIS Official Labour Market Statistics.

In 2018, the proportion of working age population residents in Suffolk in receipt of either Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Incapacity Benefit (IB) or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) was significantly lower than England (4.6% v 5.4%).There were 20,640 claimants in Suffolk. At a district/borough level, higher than national claimant rates were recorded in Waveney (6.0%) and Ipswich (6.4%).[22]

3.9 Earnings and income

Earnings in Suffolk are lower than the regional and national average. This is the case for people living in Suffolk residents and for people who live outside the County and travel in for work. On average, people who work in Suffolk earn £58 per week less than workers in England as a whole (Table 2).[15] The wage gap is smaller for people living in Suffolk but not necessarily working here (£38 per week). This suggests that some Suffolk residents commute outside the County for higher-paid employment opportunities.

The same story is told for most of Suffolk's districts and boroughs: workplace earnings are lower than residential earnings. The only exception is Ipswich. This suggests that better paid jobs are available in Ipswich, but the residents of the borough are not filling those jobs.

Table 2: Median gross annual income for residence-based and workplace-based full-time workers, Suffolk, East of England, England, 2018[15]
Area Residence-based workers Workplace-based workers
 Suffolk £27,891 £26,873
 East of England £31,033 £29,128
 England £29,869 £29,872

Source: Office for National Statistics. (2018). Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. 

3.10 Productivity

Suffolk’s productivity levels (how good we are at delivering the goods and services that are bought and sold), are low, despite high overall levels of employment. The reasons for this low productivity are complex but it is at least partly driven by Suffolk’s low wage and low skill profile. Raising productivity in Suffolk requires increased provision of higher wage opportunities – which in turn would benefit both wealth and health.

More productive counties are generally able to offer their residents higher living standards. Wellbeing can be improved by investment in good quality healthcare and education, roads and infrastructure, safer communities, stronger support for people who need it and improved environmental standards. Lower productivity can be linked to lower job satisfaction, lower pay and poorer health.

3.11New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) works with businesses, local authority partners and education institutions to drive growth and enterprise in Norfolk and Suffolk. The New Anglia area is currently the 14th largest LEP area economy (out of 38), contributing some £35.5bn of gross value added (GVA) to UK plc across agriculture, production, manufacturing and services. Growth in the local economy since the recession has been robust, with the nominal GVA expanding by 20% between 2009 and 2015.[16]

In 2018, New Anglia LEP recorded a large and diverse business population of 62,750 independent enterprises, with a further 13,000 national and international enterprises operating sites locally (such as stores, plants and warehouses).[5] Of these independent enterprises, the majority are within the private sector, and since 2011 there has been a ‘business boom’ locally with a net increase of 5,600 private sector enterprises (a 9% increase). There are more than 7,000 civil service jobs within the New Anglia LEP, which represents just over one percent of the total number of jobs in the area.

4 What policies affect work in Suffolk?      

The Suffolk Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Framework focuses on the future prosperity of the County through sustainable economic growth. The Framework outlines the need to have higher value, better paying jobs and appropriate housing available to allow our communities to flourish. In addition to supporting health and wellbeing through the creation of employment opportunities and suitable housing, the Framework aims to provide significant future income through local business rates that will support other transformation programmes.

The Suffolk Growth Partnership Board (SGPB) has members from Suffolk local authorities, New Anglia LEP (with Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP invited to attend), the University of Suffolk, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the Suffolk Housing Board. The SGPB's role is to:

  • lead the Suffolk Growth Framework
  • deliver Suffolk’s economic vision through its own programmes and projects and through work with partners
  • influence and engage with public / private stakeholders, businesses and politicians about the priorities for growth in Suffolk and the opportunities for improving the region’s competitive position and prosperity
  • manage risk by understanding upcoming risks / unknowns and responding to these through a flexible and innovative approach to economic growth

The New Anglia LEP Skills Board (new window) helps to place employers at the centre of decision making on skills in Norfolk and Suffolk.[17] The Skills Board for Norfolk and Suffolk was established in 2014 to provide visible leadership from business on the skills agenda for Norfolk and Suffolk. The Board helps to place employers at the centre of decision making on skills in order to ensure our local skills system becomes more responsive to the needs of employers and the future economy. A School for Social Entrepreneurs East has been established for those who have been unemployed for at least 6 months, parents returning to work and unemployed graduates. Sector Skills Plans are being developed through New Anglia LEP, in order to identify and start addressing the skills needs in the construction, health and social care, digital tech, life sciences, bio-economy and agri-food tech sectors.[18]

The New Anglia Enterprise Advisor Network (EAN), part of New Anglia LEP and Suffolk County Council, was nationally recognised in 2017 for its work facilitating links between Suffolk schools, colleges and volunteers from local businesses. New Anglia LEP have also secured funding to create a Norfolk and Suffolk careers hub, which would be one of twenty planned nationally. The careers hub will consist of a group of schools and colleges, working with providers and employers to identify and support the provision of professional careers advice.

The Raising the Bar initiative in Suffolk contributes to efforts to increase the local skill-base and is seen as a positive programme nationally. The 2018-20 strategy builds upon the achievements of 2015-17.[19], [20]

5 Further information

Inclusive growth is a key focus for Suffolk. The 2017 Suffolk Annual Public Health Report[21] built on this theme by exploring the links between work and wellbeing from a public health perspective.  

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP) works with businesses, education and local authority partners to drive growth and enterprise in Norfolk and Suffolk. The NALEP website contains lots of useful information, including an economic strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk

The Suffolk Framework for inclusive Growth aims to drive forward economic growth (our jobs), infrastructure investment (our transport, communication, utilities, education and health facilities) and residential growth (our homes). 

Data about the economy and employment can be viewed on the Suffolk Observatory website:

6 References

[1]        Department of Work and Pensions, “Is work good for your health and wellbeing? An independent review,” 2006.

[2]        L. R. Gordo, “Effects of short- and long-term unemployment on health satisfaction: evidence from German data,” Appl. Econ., vol. 38, no. 20, pp. 2335–2350, Nov. 2006.

[3]        A. Milner, A. Page, A. D. LaMontagne, T. Hemmingsson, and N. Westergaard-Nielsen, “Long-Term Unemployment and Suicide: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 1, p. e51333, Jan. 2013. 

[4]        Office for National Statistics, “Annual Population Survey,” NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2018.

[5]        Office for National Statistics, “NOMIS Official Labour Market Statistics,” NOMIS, 2018.

[6]        Public Health England, “Public Health Outcomes Framework.” [Online]. Available:

[7]        Office for National Statistics, “UK business; activity, size and location,” 2018.

[8]        P. Coenen et al., “Do highly physically active workers die early? A systematic review with meta-analysis of data from 193 696 participants,” Br J Sport. Med, vol. 52, no. 20, pp. 1320–1326, 2018.

[9]           Visit Suffolk, “About.” [Online]. Available:

[10]        Suffolk Coastal District Council, “Port of Felixstowe Growth and Development Needs Study,” 2018.

[11]      Department of Education, “Ipswich Opportunity Area 2017-20 Delivery Plan,” 2017.

[12]      BBC News, “Philips to close Suffolk factory putting 430 jobs at risk,” 2019.

[13]      L. Booth-Smith, J. Fyans, and Localis, “In Place of Work Influencing local labour markets,” London, 2017.

[14]      Department of Education, “Norfolk and Suffolk Area Review Final Report,” 2017.

[15]      Office for National Statistics, “Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings,” NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2018.

[16]      Office for National Statistics, “GVA for Local Enterprise Partnerships,” 2017.

[17]      New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, “New Anglia LEP Skills Board.”

[18]      New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, “Sector Skills Plans.”

[19]      Suffolk County Council, “Raising the Bar Strategy 2018-20,” 2018.

[20]      Suffolk County Council, “Raising the Bar 2015-17 Achievements,” 2018.

[21]      Public Health Suffolk, “Working for Wellbeing: Suffolk Annual Public Health Report,” 2017. 

[22]      Public Health England. Public Health Profiles. (2018). Available at: