UK in grip of ‘self-reinforcing spiral of division’

Many parts of the country are being left behind because of a ‘stark’ social mobility postcode lottery, a new report has warned.

The Social Mobility Commission’s annual state of the nation report warns the UK is in ‘the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division’ and calls on government to increase its spending on those parts of the country that most need it.

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

It also challenges the assumption of a simple north/south divide and instead suggests there are ‘hotspots and coldspots’ in almost every part of the country.

The worst performing areas are no longer inner city areas, it says, but remote rural and coastal areas, and former industrial towns.

It names Weymouth, Portland and Allerdale as some of the worst performing areas, while Scarborough, Hastings, Derby and Nottingham are becoming ‘entrenched social mobility coldspots’.

The report also warns some of the richest places in England – such as West Berkshire, Cotswold and Crawley – are delivering worse outcomes for their disadvantaged children than poorer areas, like Sunderland and Tower Hamlets.

The report says a ‘critical factor’ in the performance of many top local authorities is the number and quality of available teachers.

It claims schools in rural and coastal areas are ‘isolated and lack partnership’ with other schools.

In Lancashire and West Yorkshire, only 19% of schools are either in a multi-academy trust or equivalent, compared to 35% in north east London and the east of England.

And while half of disadvantaged young people in Kensington and Chelsea make it to university, only 10% make it in Hastings, Barnsley and Eastbourne.

In 71 largely rural areas, around a third (30%) of people earn less than the voluntary living wage. The average wage in west Somerset, for example, is said to be £312 a week, less than half of the best performing areas in London, such as Wandsworth and Westminster.

‘London and its hinterland are increasingly looking like a different country from the rest of Britain,’ said commission chair, Alan Milburn.

‘It is moving ahead as are many of our country’s great cities,’ he added. ‘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.

‘A less divided Britain will require a more redistributive approach to spreading education, employment and housing prospects across our country.’

The founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, which campaigns on issues around social mobility, Sir Peter Lampl, said the commission’s report presents a ‘worrying and complex regional divide in the chances of getting on in today’s Britain’.

‘It is vital that we focus on providing quality education in the early years, so that disadvantaged children gain the developmental skills they need to succeed,’ added Sir Peter.

‘We need to make sure that children have access to high quality teaching by recruiting more good teachers and most importantly raising the game of the 450,000 teachers already employed.’

  • Read the full report here.



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