Social mobility hotspots - a Britain that works for all

Justine Greening has announced the creation of ten areas named by the Government as where ‘the poor find it hardest to get on’, which are due to get £6 million each. Helen Barnard looks at their potential as a pilot for a wider programme to improve social mobility through education.

Justine Greening has announced the creation of ten areas including ‘social mobility hotspots’, in West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, Scarborough, Derby and Oldham. These have been named by the Government as areas where ‘the poor find it hardest to get on’, and are due to get £6 million each, for teacher training and resources, links with universities, apprenticeships, mentoring and Citizens’ Service. This is a fairly small first step to improving prospects – across the six local authorities there are just under 50 000 primary school children on free school meals, out of over a million in England - but has huge potential as a pilot for a wider programme to improve social mobility through education.

The key to making these pilots work is making sure that the funding is used to achieve the best results for these six areas, and that the initial programme is built on to improve life for the millions more people who are struggling to get by outside these pilot areas

The key to both of these lies in evidence. In order to have a real impact in these places the government needs to ensure that local leaders, communities and businesses are fully engaged, use robust analysis of the problems facing their areas and draw on the best evidence of what is effective in tackling those problems. Mentoring and Citizen’s Service can be enjoyable and worthwhile for young people, but there is weak evidence that they significantly change attainment or prospects. Links with both employers and universities can help – but only if they are linked to concrete plans to raise young people’s attainment and give them expert careers advice. Too many apprenticeships are currently poor quality and do little to improve young people’s future wages.

Our Strategy to Solve UK poverty shows that the policies which could do most to improve the prospects of children and young people, and are currently lacking in many areas include:

  • high quality childcare
  • effective Continuing Professional Development for teachers and attracting the best teachers and leaders to schools struggling to recruit them
  • apprenticeships that are good quality and put young people on a career path to decently paid, secure jobs
  • expert careers advice and strong links to employers, at school and for 16 – 19 year olds in the community.

Education and careers guidance are vital to improving social mobility. But they will only be effective in the long-term if there are good quality, secure jobs available for pupils after they leave education. The UK has a large proportion of low paid, low skilled jobs and particularly low productivity in our low wage sectors such as retail and food compared to the same sectors in other countries. Four out of five low paid workers are still low paid after 10 years.

JRF’s Working Age Poverty Risk Index examines some of the drivers of working age poverty across Parliamentary Constituencies. All but one of the initial pilot areas have higher than average risk scores but they are quite different in the balance between people being out of work as opposed to being in work but still needing financial support.

This shows the need to focus on local labour markets and the pay and security of jobs as well as whether people can get into work at all. Improving young people’s skills and confidence needs to be matched by access to better jobs. Our experience with the Leeds City Region shows how a local area can bring together politicians, businesses, anchor institutions and communities to deliver inclusive growth. For Justine Greening’s plans to work, the Government needs to make sure that the drivers of poverty are tackled not only through the education and skills systems but in the labour market which our children will be entering.

Improving life in these ten ‘social mobility hotspots’ is an important goal, but poverty affects every region in the country and costs the UK £78 billion every year. These hotspots will have the most long-term impact as pilots for combining evidence based interventions, and if the Government evaluates their impact robustly. This will make them into trail-blazers for a new approach and provide a solid basis for improving prospects elsewhere, and make this initiative a truly valuable foundation for the Prime Minister’s greater goal - building a Britain that works for everyone.