The State of the Nation

30 May 2019

The Social Mobility Commission’s sixth State of the Nation report has shed further light on the avoidable inequalities that exist in Great Britain today. The report reveals that social mobility has flat-lined, at every stage from birth to the workplace, over the last four years.

In this blog, Joel Llewellyn, the Trust’s Evaluation and Learning Officer, explores what the report has to say about social mobility in 2019.

"The Commission’s new report, published last month, perhaps most crucially identifies a mobility gap between advantaged and less advantaged children in Britain that widens immediately, from birth.

They find that children experiencing disadvantage in the system are losing out on the government’s 30-hour childcare offer, either because they are not eligible for the additional support, or their parents are not aware that they are eligible. The commission recommends that such situations could have been avoided, and could still be negated, with more visible promotion of the 30-hour childcare offer, as well as more adequate eligibility assessments that don’t leave children behind.

The Commission also reveal that almost half of children in receipt of free school meals are not reaching a good level of development by the age of five - compared with one in four children from more advantaged backgrounds. This attainment gap widens even more significantly once they turn six and seven.

If social mobility is all about untangling our social and economic prospects from where we start in life and ensuring equity of opportunity for all, then the estimate within the report that there are 500,000 more children living in poverty than in 2012 shows that something is going seriously wrong. So too the revelation that only 16 per cent of pupils on free school meals attain at least two A-levels, compared to 39 per cent of all other pupils.

The report paints a picture of a socially immobile Britain, especially for those in the most disadvantaged communities, amid a backdrop of rising levels of poverty.

The relationship between poverty and health is well-established. In addition to our economic prospects, living in poverty shortens our life expectancy, our healthy life expectancy, and it damages our mental health. New government research published in early May underlines this - showing that men and women living in neighbourhoods experiencing the sharpest disadvantage in England are 4.5 times and 3.9 times more likely to die from an avoidable cause of death than people living in the most advantaged neighbourhoods[1].

In short, the State of the Nation report confirms a lot of what we at the Trust have come to understand about disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Our chances in life, including our health, are impacted by a huge range of socio-economic factors, determined by where we are born, and where we grow, live, work and age.

We all want our neighbourhoods to have good schools, green spaces and low levels of pollution. We all benefit from a strong community bond forged through a wide variety of activities for children and adults alike, as well as a motivated group of residents working together to make where they live the very best place it can be.

It is within the scope of national and local government to address these fundamental, systemic and avoidable issues within neighbourhoods to create better and healthier places to grow, live, work and age. We have seen lengthy periods of time in this country where poverty and child poverty rates have fallen. If good public policy can contribute to successfully addressing poverty, then it should – and it certainly should not exacerbate it, as the State of the Nation suggests it does.

Hopefully, the Social Mobility Commission’s report is stark enough for decision-makers to take notice – especially in this time of political upheaval. It makes clear that the issues the Commission was created to overcome, and to hold government to account for, are as prevalent as they have ever been, and that the policies of the day are not going far enough."

To read the Social Mobility Commission’s sixth State of the Nation report, click here.

To find out more about the Trust’s work to make our neighbourhoods fairer places to grow, live, work and age, click here.

To find out more about the Trust's evaluation and learning work, read about our impact here.

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