Government watchdog says “ambitious” 10-year report transforming housing, education and employment is needed to tackle social mobility problems

Chloe Smith chairs social mobility roundtable in Norwich to respond to the 2016 Social Mobility Inde

Chloe Smith chairs social mobility roundtable in Norwich to respond to the 2016 Social Mobility Index which shows the poorest children in Norwich to have some of the worst life chances in the country. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Britain's deep social mobility problem is creating a growing divide between cities and rural areas and an 'us and them' society which is holding back an entire generation of young people, the Social Mobility Commission has warned.

Children in a classroom. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Children in a classroom. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The government's watchdog on social mobility today laid its State of the Nation 2016 report before parliament, which calls for an ambitious long-term vision to tackle the worsening problems.

In January, the commission published a social mobility league table, which rated Norwich the second worst place in the country for young people's prospects. Fenland, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and Breckland were also identified as social mobility coldspots.

And in October, it announced six of the worst areas, including Norwich, would be part of a new trial hoping to improve prospects.

Unveiling the report, Alan Milburn, chairman of the commission, called on the government to develop a 10-year social reform strategy covering four 'fundamental barriers' - an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, a regionally imbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market.

He said: 'At a time when more and more people feel like they are losing out, social mobility matters more than ever before.

'The impact is not just felt by the poorest in society but is also holding back whole tranches of middle, as well as low income, families - these treadmill families are running harder and harder, but are standing still.

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'The problem is not just social division, but a widening geographical divide between the big cities - London especially - and too many towns and counties across the country that are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially.'

So what are some of the recommendations?


• Commit to a target of building three million homes over the next decade as part of 'radical action' to increase supply

• Modify the starter homes initiative to focus on households with average incomes, and ensure, when sold, these homes go to other low-income households

• Introduce tax incentives to encourage longer private sector tenancies

• Introduce a £140m fund to improve opportunities for social tenants to get work on the worst estates

The workplace

• Make a deal with employers to define businesses' social obligations

• Develop a second chance career fund to help older workers retrain

• Write off advanced learner loans for part-time workers

• Work with employers, councils and LEPs to bring high-quality job opportunities to social mobility coldspots

• Encourage large businesses to develop strategies to provide low-skilled workers with opportunities for career progression

• Introduce a legal ban on unpaid internships


• Set a clear objective that by 2025, every child should be school ready at the age of five

• Double funding for the early years pupil premium to ensure better child care

• Aim, within the next decade, to narrow the attainment gap at GSCE between poorer children and their better-off classmates by two thirds

• Reconsider plans for more grammar schools and academies

• Mandate the 10 lowest performing local authorities to take part in improvement programmes

• Create new incentives, including better pay, to attract high-quality teachers

• Repurpose the National Citizen Service so that all children aged between 14 and 18 can have quality work experience or extra-curricular activities

• Scrap low-quality apprenticeships

• Develop a single UCAS-style portal so that young people can make better choices about their futures

• School sixth form provision should be extended

• A new social mobility league table should be published to encourage universities to widen access

Mr Milburn warned that 'whole sections of society and whole tracts of Britain feel left behind' and said EU referendum result showed that the 'public mood is sour'.

He admitted these are 'big structural problems' which needed 'long-term transformative solutions', which the commission believes would be targeted by the 10-year plan.

• To read the full report, click here.