A stark social mobility postcode lottery exists in Britain today, where the chances of someone from a disadvantaged background succeeding in life are bound to where they live, the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report finds today.
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 the UK 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 is 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 or coastal areas and former industrial areas, especially in the Midlands. Youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds who live there face far higher barriers than those who grow up in cities and their surrounding areas – and in our working lives people face lower rates of pay, fewer top jobs and travel-to-work times nearly four times those 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 most disadvantaged residents.
The report highlights that local policies adopted by local authorities and employers can influence outcomes for disadvantaged residents. But it warns that there is a mindblowing 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.”