Rural areas inferior for social mobility

Rural and coastal areas are among the worst performing when it comes to social mobility, says a government report.

The Social Mobility Commission’s latest ‘State of the nation’ report says a stark social mobility postcode lottery exists in Britain today.

The chances of someone from a disadvantaged background succeeding in life is bound to where they live, according to the study, which was published on Tuesday (28 November).

The report uncovers a striking geographical divide with London and its surrounding areas pulling away from the rest of the country, it warns.

Meanwhile, many other parts of the country are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially, says the study.

Britain is in the "grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division," says the commission, which calls on government to increase spending on parts of the country that most need it.

At the heart of the report is the Social Mobility Index.


It ranks all 324 local authorities in England in terms of their social mobility prospects for someone from a disadvantaged background.

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.

Social Mobility Commission chairman Alan Milburn 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."

The index 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.

  Hotspots and coldspots

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 Midlands are the worst performing regions.

The best performing local authority area is Westminster and the worst is West Somerset.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds living in the worst preforming areas face far higher barriers than young people growing up in cities and their surrounding areas.

In their working lives, these youngsters 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, says the commission.

Richer areas tend to outperform deprived areas but some 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 among 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.

Some of the worst performing areas such as Weymouth and Portland, and Allerdale, are rural, not urban

Coastal and older industrial towns - places such as Scarborough, Hastings, Derby and Nottingham - are becoming entrenched social mobility coldspots

In 71, largely rural areas, more than 30% of people earn below the voluntary living wage.

Average wages in West Somerset are £312 a week, less than half of the best performing areas of London such as Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames and Westminster.

The report says local authorities should develop an integrated strategy for improving disadvantaged children’s outcomes and Pupil Premium funds should be invested in evidence-based practice.

It says central government should launch a fund to enable schools in rural and coastal areas to partner with other schools to boost attainment.

Central government should also rebalance the national transport budget to deliver a fairer share of investment per person and contribute towards a more regionally balanced economy.

The study – Social mobility in Great Britain: fifth state of the nation report – can be downloaded from the Social Mobility Commission website here.


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