The government has drawn together a range of evidence about social mobility and come up with an index for each of over 350 local authorities. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496103/Social_Mobility_Index.pdf The key headlines are the widening north south divide and the fact that London and parts of the Home Counties are the place where social mobility is most apparent. Coastal areas and industrial towns are becoming real social mobility cold spots.
What is interesting are those areas where mobility is high but education performance is poor for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This seems to be areas in the south where the adult labour market is strong. Oxford is one of these places. The education outcomes of schools in some parts of the City are amongst the worst in the country, yet unemployment is amongst the lowest as measured by those on benefit. The two universities, a large health service presence and a major car-making plant all no doubt generate significant employment opportunities servicing their needs that doesn’t yet require significant levels of education. How long that will last is open to question. I recall the adage that the porter of yesterday is the fork-lift truck driver of today and the operator of the robot staffed warehouse of tomorrow. It is clear that a porter may need fewer educational skills than the console operator, although driving robots might need far fewer people to do the same job.
Even more worrying is the statement that ‘Many of the richest places in England are doing worse for their disadvantaged children than places that are much poorer’. Civic pride has been replaced, at least in education, by a governance system devoid of ties to local areas. The report concludes that, ‘It is notable that local areas in the East Midlands and the East of England are significantly are over-represented in areas that do significantly worse than expected given their level of deprivation, together making up half of the lowest performing 10 per cent of areas on this measure.’
I would urge anyone interested in the issue of social mobility to look at the full report and perhaps to challenge some of the assumptions behind the data. For instance, social mobility might seem good in London, but who can afford to live in the city these days and does that affect the outcome of reports of this nature?
The importance of communications is one of the features that can affect social mobility. It is interesting to look at Banbury in North Oxfordshire as a case study. Not only does the M40 run pas the town with a junction handily placed for commuters but the rail link to London now takes less than an hour. As a result, the town has relatively low unemployment, but still has areas of disadvantage second only to Oxford in the county. As the town grows so it attracts more affluent incomers, but at the risk if leaving behind a group of under-performing long-term residents that have received some benefit from the growth, but not as measured by this Social Mobility Index. .