HEAT members may be aware that the Social Mobility Commission has recently published its fifth annual State of the Nation 2017 Report. It suggests that a ‘stark’ social mobility postcode lottery exists in Britain today in which life success has a definite geographical basis. Members may also be aware that, shortly after publication, the whole board of the Social Mobility Commission (both Tory and Labour) resigned in protest at an alleged lack of engagement on this issue by the present administration, suggesting the Government did not have the ‘bandwidth’ to cope with anything other than Brexit. Ironically, the resignation of these high-profile social-mobility Tsars was rather overshadowed by, yes, Brexit.
This year’s report concentrates squarely on the geographical divides between London and the rest of the country, suggesting we are ‘in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division’ in which many parts of this country are being ‘left behind economically and hollowed out socially’.
The report will be of most interest to members for its Social Mobility Index which ranks all 324 Local Authorities in the UK in terms of the social mobility of their disadvantaged residents. Sixteen metrics are used to create this annual index, which provides a picture of social mobility prospects from early years through to employment.
The index suggests that a simple north/south divide does not exist. Instead it highlights particular geographies in which social mobility is poor – including remote rural and coastal areas but also former industrial areas, especially in the East and West Midlands. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds in these types of area generally face higher educational, employment, pay and transport barriers than their peers living in cities and surrounding areas. From an HE point of view, members may be aware that recent UCAS data chimes with this picture showing that, for instance, applications from young people in the East Midlands are falling despite the overall picture of increased applications across England.
However, the report also points out the ‘postcode lottery’ highlighted by the Index. Forward-thinking policy in some Local Authorities means that they buck general geographic social mobility trends. Likewise, and important to note, some affluent areas are highlighted as failing their most disadvantaged residents.