Social mobility in UK ‘a stark postcode lottery’, study finds

Report highlights the stark social mobility postcode lottery that exists in Britain with London accounting for nearly two-thirds of all social mobility hotspots

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, published today has found.

At the heart of the report is the Social Mobility Index, which ranks all 324 local authorities in England in terms of the life chances of someone born into a disadvantaged background and debunks the notion of a simple North-South divide.

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.

The report explains that wealthy areas can see high levels of low pay – including most London boroughs – such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham, with poorer young people at risk of being “somewhat neglected”, particularly if they are scattered around isolated rural schools.

In 71 largely rural areas, more than 30 per cent of people earn below the voluntary living wage with average wages in the worst performing area, West Somerset at £312 a week, less than half of the best performing areas of London such as Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames and Westminster.

City residents face barriers in their working lives with high housing costs and high rates of low paid work compared to commuter belt residents who benefit from higher rates of the top jobs and with more families owning their homes.

Conversely, some of the most deprived areas are “hotspots”, such as West Berkshire, Cotswold and Crawley, providing good education, employment opportunities and housing for their most 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.

 The Rt Hon 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.

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