Stark social mobility postcode lottery in Britain

A stark social mobility postcode lottery exists in Britain where the chances of someone from a disadvantaged background succeeding in life is bound to where they live, a new report has found.

State of the Nation: 2017 by the Social Mobility Commission 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 Britain 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 local authorities in England in terms of their social mobility prospects for someone from a disadvantaged background.

The report debunks the assumption that a simple north-south divide exists, and instead 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. 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. Some of the most deprived areas in England are hotspots, including most London boroughs. Conversely, some affluent areas are amongst 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 there is an inconsistency of practice in how to improve social mobility outcomes, with little pooling of experience or evidence-based strategies.

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.”

Lord Porter, Local Government Association chairman, said: "We want every resident to have a good quality of life and to be able to improve their circumstances regardless of their background or where they live.

“To tackle poverty and promote social mobility, policies cutting across a wide range of areas – such as early years, family support, education, employment support, welfare, public health and housing - need to be considered together and follow people through their lifetime.

“To help councils better serve the needs of disadvantaged communities, we are calling on government to give councils oversight of all school improvement, sufficient funding for local welfare support, reverse reductions to public health funding, invest in prevention, extend the removal of the housing borrowing cap to all councils so they can build more homes for those in need, and plug the £2 billion funding gap for children’s services.”

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