“The Midlands is the worst region of the country for social mobility for those from disadvantaged backgrounds – half of the local authority areas in the East Midlands and more than a third in the West Midlands are social mobility coldspots” This is quote from the 2017 annual social mobility report produced by the Government’s Social Mobility Commission, whose duty is to promote social mobility in England and provide an independent scrutiny and advocacy role on social mobility in England.
David Johnston, former commissioner of the Social Mobility Commission and Chief Executive, Social Mobility Foundation spoke about how Britain remains a deeply divided nation. These divisions take many forms – class, income, gender, race – all of which have been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years. But the divide is not just an economic or social one. It also takes the form of a widening geographical divide. David highlighted that the UK is in the grip of a “self-reinforcing spiral of ever growing division” and the government needs to increase its proportion of spending on those parts of the country that most need it. For the West Midlands the data provided by David based on the 16 indicator measures used by the Commission to understand the varying degrees of social mobility at different life stages illustrates the need for focused and targeted interventions based on place and groups of people with similar disadvantaged backgrounds. The regional data shows at certain life cycle transition points, life chances have improved in certain places in the region while other places in the region are doing poorly. For example: Solihull is in the top 20 per cent of local authorities in terms of the highest chances of social mobility, while Sandwell and Dudley have one of the worst quality primary school education, with a shortage of good teachers. In addition, those with a longstanding industrial manufacturing economy are being left further behind. One particular point stuck with many of those that attended was that those with low ability but come from a higher social class can have greater social mobility than those with higher ability but come from a low social class. The Social Mobility Foundation have introduced a Social Mobility Employer Index, which ranks employers action on improving social mobility in their workplace. David’s presentation can be found here.
Tina Costello, Chief Executive, Heart of England Community Foundation talked to a report commissioned by them and undertaken by Wolverhampton University: Communities Uncovered. The evidence from the report is for many not new, but brings together a range of data and information that reveals how divided Birmingham and Black Country is because of poverty and disadvantage where particular communities of interest and place lack of social mobility is entrenched.
Matt Poole and Sue Brueton, Big Lottery Fund (who hosted the event) shared the changing approach to their grant making and shift towards a more local focus and building upon the assets of communities of interest and place. A copy of their slides can be found here. From their own work at a local level in Black Country communities are indicating the over consultation on local need and issues, but then not following through with action; people’s low mobility in seeking jobs and new opportunities; the need for counselling, and addressing social isolation and loneliness; the lack of infra-structure support to community groups to work in a more co-ordinated way. In Birmingham the issues are on the young people and mental wellbeing; isolation of older people and domestic abuse in families.
Other information and resources:
The Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission – details of other relevant reports and previous end of year statements on social mobility
Economic and Social Research Council – Employment key to social mobility