The effect of deprivation in dozens of English local authorities is now so persistent that some families face being locked into disadvantage for generations unless the right action is taken, a new report shows today.

In the most detailed study of regional social mobility ever conducted in the UK, the report from the Social Mobility Commission identifies local councils with the worst and the best social mobility in England.

In the “coldest spots” which include Bolton and Wigan,those from disadvantaged backgrounds, entitled to free school meals, have little chance of making a better life for themselves or their children. They also earn much less than their more affluent peers.

Individuals aged 28 from disadvantaged families in these councils earn on average just over half the amount of those from similar backgrounds in the most mobile areas. They also earn much less than those of the same age from more affluent families living nearby.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the commission said:

These findings are very challenging. They tell a story of deep unfairness, determined by where you grow up. It is not a story of north versus south or urban versus rural; this is a story of local areas side by side with vastly different outcomes for the disadvantaged sons growing up there.

research, carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), links educational data and HMRC earnings for the first time to identify young sons from disadvantaged families – those entitled to free school meals. The sons who were born between 1986 and 1988 and went to state schools in England, were followed from aged 16 to 28.

The results, covering around 320 local councils in England and 800,000 young adults, show a postcode lottery for disadvantaged people. In areas with high social mobility, disadvantaged young adults earn twice as much as those with similar backgrounds in areas with low social mobility – on average, over £20,000 compared with under £10,000

But those from poor backgrounds also face unfairness on their doorstep. Pay gaps between the most and least deprived individuals in local authorities with the poorest social mobility are 2.5 times higher than in areas of high social mobility.

Education, often blamed for social mobility differences, is only part of the answer. In areas with high social mobility, gaps in educational achievement account for almost the entire pay difference between the most and least advantaged sons. On average it accounts for 80% of the difference.

However, in local authorities where social mobility is low it is much harder to escape deprivation. In such areas, up to 33% of the pay gap between the highest and lowest earners is down to non-education factors, like local labour markets and family background.

Disadvantaged workers are restricted by factors including limited social networks (fewer internships); inability to move to more prosperous areas; limited or no financial support from family; less resilience to economic turbulence due to previous crisis such as 2008 financial crash and less developed soft skills.

The commission is now urging regional and community leaders to use the findings to help draw up tailored, sustained, local programmes to boost social mobility, building on the approach in some Opportunity Areas. The commission will also ask the government to extend its current Opportunity Areas programme – which gives support to 12 councils – to include several more authorities identified as the areas with the most entrenched disadvantage.

Professor Lindsey Macmillan, Director of CEPEO at UCL and Research Fellow at IFS said:

This new evidence highlights the need for a joined up-approach across government, third sector organisations, and employers. The education system alone cannot tackle this postcode lottery – a strategy that considers the entire life experience, from birth through to adulthood, is crucial to ensuring fairer life chances for all.

Laura van der Erve, Research Economist at IFS and co-author of the report, said:

Not only do children from disadvantaged backgrounds have considerably lower school attainment and lower adult earnings than their peers from more affluent backgrounds, we also find large differences in the outcomes of children from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country. This highlights that children’s opportunities in England are still defined by both the family they were born into and the area they grew up in.


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