Is social mobility in England still all about the North/South divide?

1 December 2017
What was claimed

£72 million is going towards specific areas of the country, including Scarborough, to help improve the quality of education.

Our verdict

Correct. The “Opportunity Areas” programme will provide £72 million for 12 areas of the country ranked low for social mobility. North Yorkshire, including Scarborough, will seek to improve early years education, maths and literacy skills and secondary school places through the programme.

What was claimed

A report by the Social Mobility Commission says there isn’t a north/south divide on social mobility, it says the picture is more mixed than this.

Our verdict

That’s correct. The report said the strongest divide was between London and the rest of the country.

“Scarborough was in there and I think the education was highlighted in that report and that is why there is £72 million going towards specific areas in the country, of which Scarborough is one, to help really improve the quality of education.”

Sam Gyimah MP, 30 November 2017

The Social Mobility Commission published its fifth annual report this week. It says that when it comes to social mobility in England “There is no simple north/south divide. Instead, a divide exists between London (and its affluent commuter belt) and the rest of the country—London accounts for nearly two-thirds of all social mobility hotspots.”

A “hotspot” is an area with high social mobility, according to the report.

The best performing council area in England for social mobility was Westminster and the worst performing was West Somerset. In terms of regions, London was by far the best performing and the East Midlands was the worst.

Of the 32 council areas in London, the report classified 29 as “hotspots”. It attributes London’s dominance in the social mobility league tables to its economic strength.

The report also says that some of the worst performing areas of the country for social mobility are in rural areas rather than cities and some are also in “relatively affluent” parts of the country.

Scarborough was near the bottom of the list

Scarborough—where this week’s Question Time was held—was ranked 295 out of 324 local authorities for social mobility (when ranked from best to worst). The report described it as one of several “entrenched social mobility coldspots” and it was in the bottom ten local council areas for “school social mobility indicators”.

The government has said it will provide a share of £72 million to “Opportunity Areas”—12 regions in England that performed poorly for social mobility in last year’s report from the Commission. One of these areas is the North Yorkshire Coast, including Scarborough.

In North Yorkshire the government says the  “Opportunity Areas” programme will involve improving early years education, supporting literacy and maths in the area and increasing the number of good secondary school places available.

Scotland and Wales

The report also looks at social mobility in Scotland and Wales, although because of differences between the way the statistics are collected in the three countries they can’t be compared to each other.

In Scotland social mobility was highest in “rural and semi-rural” areas. Former industrial areas Dundee, East Ayrshire and Clackmannanshire had the lowest social mobility.

In Wales there was no clear north/south divide, nor a clear contrast between city and rural residents.

Defining social mobility

The Social Mobility Commission says social mobility is “about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to build a good life for themselves regardless of their family background.” So in the report an area with lots of social mobility would mean coming from a disadvantaged background wouldn’t hold a person back from achieving their potential.

The report looked at disadvantage in England and Wales based on whether or not a person was eligible for free school meals and then looking at various factors like how these people performed at school, whether or not they obtained a degree, and the kind of jobs and wages they went on the get.

The figures for Scotland focused on all people’s life changes, rather than specifically those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

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