University of York report says social mobility stagnation must be reversed urgently

Urgent measures must be taken to reverse social mobility stagnation, according to stark research which has warned successive decades of inaction has widened the North-South divide and risks creating a lost generation through a lack of educational and job opportunities.

Published today by the University of York and Purpose Coalition, the Level Best report was commissioned in the wake of figures which revealed it would take a child born into poverty in the UK five generations to earn the average wage, compared to just two in Denmark and three in Finland and Sweden.

The new research identifies 16 towns and cities in England which are most at risk of being further left behind and while the cluster is centred on the Midlands, with just one of the 20 hardest hit areas found in London and the South East, it also highlights growing regional disparities in the North.

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Purpose Coalition was founded by Justine Greening and the Rotherham-born former Conservative Education Secretary is now urging public and private sector organisations to sign up to the report’s 14 levelling up goals, which include closing the digital divide and widening access to savings and credit.

The University of York has carried out the report. (Credit: Alex Bolland)

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She told The Yorkshire Post: “In this country, all too often, where you start in life still decides where you finish. Disadvantage accumulates and we need to reverse these negative life cycles that still exist in too many parts of the country.

“There is certainly talent spread evenly across the country – the problem is that opportunity isn’t spread so evenly. That can lead to missed opportunities at every life stage.

“Growing up in Rotherham in the 1980s, where there was very little opportunity, the chance to go to university enabled me to change my life for the better, leading to opportunities throughout my life that I would never have had access to without it.

“The cost of lost learning during the pandemic could cost children today £40,000 in lost earnings over their lifetime and those from the most deprived backgrounds need to see that government, business and education organisations have the same ambition for their communities that they do.”

One of the academics who helped to compile the new Level Best report claimed the pandemic has laid bare the scale of the UK’s lack of social mobility.

Professor Kiran Trehan, pro-vice-chancellor for partnerships and engagement at the University of York, said: “The pages of this document expose an inconvenient and troubling truth - the pandemic has shown that social mobility in the UK is in lockdown and the social distance between the super affluent and the poor is growing so wide that it is opening deep divisions in our society.

“This report signals our determination to lead the national levelling up agenda, shaping it in such a way that the UK not only builds back better, but also builds back fairer.”

The publication of the Level Best report comes as the CBI reveals parts of the UK have been so badly neglected it has become a “branch line” economy.

Its Director General Tony Danker will today tell the organisation’s annual conference that opportunities presented by new technologies must be embraced.

He said: “Since the 1980s, we let old industries die - offering little more than benign neglect for what got left behind. The move to net zero carbon emissions creates a once in a generation opportunity for the UK’s industrial heartlands to be world-leading again. If this isn’t levelling up, I don’t know what is.”