Social mobility report 'demonstrates urgent need to reduce inequality'

By Agencies
November 29, 2017

A stark social mobility postcode lottery exists in Britain today where the chances of someone from a disadvantaged background succeeding in life is bound to where they live, the Social Mobility Commission’s ‘State of the nation’ report has found.

The report uncovers a striking geographical divide with London and its surrounding areas pulling away from the rest of the country, while many other parts of the country are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially.

It warns that Britain is in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division and calls on government to increase its proportion of spending on those parts of the country that most need it. Estimates suggest that the North is £6 billion a year underfunded compared to London.

At the heart of the report is the Social Mobility Index, which ranks all 324 local authorities in England in terms of their social mobility prospects for someone from a disadvantaged background. It uses a range of 16 indicators for every major life stage, from early years through to working lives, to map the nation’s social mobility hotspots and coldspots. A similar, but not comparable, approach has been taken for Scotland and Wales.

The report debunks the assumption that a simple north-south divide exists. Instead, it suggests there is a postcode lottery with hotspots and coldspots found in almost every part of the country. London dominates the hotspots, while the East and West Midlands are the worst performing regions. The best performing local authority area is Westminster and the worst performing area is West Somerset.

The index finds that the worst performing areas for social mobility are no longer inner city areas, but remote rural and coastal areas, and former industrial areas, especially in the Midlands. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds living in these areas face far higher barriers than young people growing up in cities and their surrounding areas - and in their working lives, face lower rates of pay; fewer top jobs; and travelling to work times of nearly four times more than that of urban residents.

There is also no direct correlation between the affluence of an area and its ability to sustain high levels of social mobility. While richer areas tend to outperform deprived areas in the index, a number of places buck the trend. Some of the most deprived areas in England are hotspots, including most London boroughs - such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham. Conversely, some affluent areas - such as West Berkshire, Cotswold and Crawley - are amongst the worst for offering good education, employment opportunities and affordable housing to their more disadvantaged residents.

The report highlights that local policies adopted by local authorities and employers can influence outcomes for disadvantaged residents. But it also warns that there is a mind-blowing inconsistency of practice in how to improve social mobility outcomes, with little pooling of experience or evidence-based strategies.

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said, "The country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one. There is a stark social mobility lottery in Britain today.

London and its hinterland are increasingly looking like a different country from the rest of Britain. It is moving ahead as are many of our country’s great cities. But too many rural and coastal areas and the towns of Britain’s old industrial heartlands are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially.

Tinkering around the edges will not do the trick. The analysis in this report substantiates the sense of political alienation and social resentment that so many parts of Britain feel. A new level of effort is needed to tackle the phenomenon of left behind Britain. Overcoming the divisions that exist in Britain requires far more ambition and far bigger scale. A less divided Britain will require a more redistributive approach to spreading education, employment and housing prospects across our country."

Commenting on the report, Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust said, "We welcome the report, which provides even more evidence of the stark divide between the rich and the poor and we support calls for a more redistributive approach. It is a national disgrace that in affluent areas, poor people are still denied access to decent jobs with decent pay, good education and efficient transport.

"The Commission says there is a lack of evidence-based strategies and inconsistency of practice when it comes to social mobility, but this cannot be divorced from the wider problem of vast inequality in the UK. If the Commission wants to tackle entrenched inequality, and to curb the 'self-reinforcing spiral of ever growing division', then we need the Government to implement a cross-departmental inequality reduction strategy and to bring into force the Socio-Economic Duty (Section 1 of The Equality Act), which would require public bodies, such as local councils, to take inequality into account when forming policies. While education can play an important part in reducing inequality, we also need better regional labour markets, access to decent housing and widespread take-up of the Living Wage. Inequality is not inevitable and this report demonstrates, once again, that it is the poor who are paying the price."

Read the State of the Nation report here

* Social Mobility Commission https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/social-mobility-commission

* Equality Trust https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/

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