Social mobility report: Problems in coastal and rural communities challenge north-south divide

Social mobility problems are blighting England’s coastal and rural areas and wealthier regions too, a new report has found.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission yesterday published the first ever ranking of English council areas by social mobility, with the results showing that some of the worst areas for improving the prospects of poor children are in more wealthy parts of the country.

It follows warnings by Ofsted about a concentration of under-performing schools in the north and midlands, and calls into question general rhetoric over a divide between the north and south.

In the social mobility index drawn up by the commission, West Somerset is the area ranked as the worst, closely followed by Norwich in East Anglia, Wychavon in the West Midlands and Corby in Northamptonshire.

Of the 10 worst areas for social mobility, three are in the east of England, three are in the east midlands and two are in the north west. The report also shows coastal areas like Blackpool, Great Yarmouth and Minehead and industrial towns, including Mansfield and Stoke, are “becoming entrenched social mobility cold spots”.

SMC report 1

On the other end of the scale, all of the top 10 boroughs for social mobility are in London, with the report showing a “more concentrated divide” in life chances between London and its commuter belt and the rest of the country.

The report says: “A key factor in the dominance of these areas – especially those in Greater London – is the strong educational outcomes of disadvantaged young people at primary and secondary school and the relatively high chances they have of progressing to university.”

The report goes on to explain that a large number of social mobility cold-spots are formerly-prosperous seaside resorts, which were built on a booming tourist trade, and have “struggled in the last few decades due to increased competition from Mediterranean resorts”.

These disadvantages are “accentuated by poor transport links to England’s main urban centres”, the report says.

The commission has also warned that England’s major cities are “failing to be the places of opportunity” they should be, with a “marked difference” seen between cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which are about average against the index, and Nottingham, Derby and Norwich, which do badly.

SMC report 1

The data also shows that many wealthier areas are “bucking the trend” of doing well against the social mobility index.

The report says: “London does exceptionally well despite its extremely high levels of deprivation. Many other highly deprived areas do relatively well and a number of affluent areas do quite badly.

Former Labour MP and minister Alan Milburn, who chairs the commission, said the report “laid bare the local lottery in social mobility”, and got “beneath the surface of a crude north/south divide and calls into question some of the conventional wisdom about where disadvantage is now located”.

He said: “It is shocking that many of the richest areas of the country are the ones failing their poorest children the most.”

Describing the report as a “wake-up call” for educators, employers and policy-makers, Milburn said much more needed to be done to level the “playing field of opportunity” in England.

He said: “I hope the government will put itself at the head of a new national drive to ensure that in future progress in life depends on aptitude and ability, not background and birth: on where people aspire to get to, not where they have come from. This report suggests that is long overdue.”

SMC report 1

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  1. Rosemary Woods

    Your article on Social Mobility is extremely interesting but it begs the question of what we achieve with Social Mobility. West Somerset – where I live is the top cold spot in the country but I have also been told that we are high up the Happiness Index!