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'We should be ashamed' - social mobility in Norfolk is some of the worst in England, study finds

Dan Mobbs from the Mancroft Advice Project.
 PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Dan Mobbs from the Mancroft Advice Project. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

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"We should be ashamed of this" - That is the message from a charity's chief executive following a new report into social mobility in Norfolk.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, Pic: Eliza Boo PhotographyChloe Smith, Norwich North MP, Pic: Eliza Boo Photography

The State of the Nation report, published yesterday, has revealed parts of the county are some of the worst in England for social mobility.

It means young people growing up in deprived areas of Norfolk have some of the worst prospects in England.

And Dan Mobbs, from the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), which provides support and counselling to young people, said political leaders were still not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Last year, Norwich was ranked as the second worst local authority in England for social mobility. Twelve months later it has only slightly improved.

The study, by the Social Mobility Commission, ranked all 324 local authorities in England in terms of their social mobility prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Six local authorities from Norfolk were in the bottom 65.

They were:

• Waveney (314)

• Breckland (300)

• King’s Lynn and West Norfolk (297)

• Norwich (294)

• Great Yarmouth (293)

• North Norfolk (263)

The highest-scoring local authority in Norfolk for social mobility was Broadland, which was ranked 93rd from the top.

Mr Mobbs, chief executive of MAP, said: “I don’t think it is over the top to say we [as a county] should be ashamed of this.

“For a place like Norwich, which does have investment, and does not suffer from industrial decay, it should not be accepted.”

He said money needed to be invested in more deprived areas of the county, especially in schools.

“Staff at schools in poorer areas have a much bigger challenge and are going to need more support. But they won’t get that, instead they have to reach the same targets as everyone else.”

The report said policies adopted by local authorities and employers could influence outcomes for disadvantaged residents.

But it warned there was a “mind-blowing inconsistency” to improving social mobility outcomes with little pooling of experience or evidence-based strategies.

It also highlighted a “self-reinforcing spiral of ever growing division”, with children in some areas getting a poor start in life from which they could never recover.

The study found that the worst-performing areas were no longer inner cities.

Instead, it said remote or coastal communities were more affected.

Nationally, West Somerset was ranked as the worst performer, while Westminster in London was the best.

Stand-out figures for Norfolk include:

• Just three in 10 disadvantaged young people in Great Yarmouth attend a school rated good or outstanding.

• The majority of people from disadvantaged backgrounds in North Norfolk and Norwich are earning a lower-than-average wage.

• In Great Yarmouth, the average wage is £324 a month – nearly half the amount earned in Brentwood.

• In almost all areas of the East of England, at least 50pc of families own their own home. But in Norwich, the figure is 40pc.

Focussing on East of England, the report found there was a cluster of high-performing areas near London.

However, local authorities on the east coast were largely negative, particularly Norfolk.

It said people living in rural areas suffered more due to the quality of secondary schools.

And in regard to education, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and Ipswich are some of the worst performers in the region.

While the west of the region has the highest levels of access into higher education, Norfolk and Suffolk were found to have far fewer “good quality” post-16 options, which limits the choices of young disadvantaged people.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, chairman of the Norwich Opportunity Area Youth Board, said: “Comparing this report roughly to the worrying 2016 index, Norwich is doing better.”

But she added: “There is still a lot to do. This report reminds us that in Norwich we would like wages to be higher and that fewer people own their homes.”

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: “Securing better outcomes for vulnerable young people and those at a disadvantage are a key focus for Children’s Services, and we are using funding opportunities such as the Strategic School Improvement Fund to systematically engage schools and providers in bidding for the necessary resources.”

Report recommendations:

The report made a number of key recommendations.

They include:

• Every local authority should develop an integrated strategy for improving disadvantaged children’s outcomes.

• Local authorities should support collaboration between isolated schools and subsidise transport for disadvantaged young people in isolated areas.

• Local authorities should all become accredited Living Wage employers and encourage others to do the same.

• Central government should launch a fund to enable schools in rural and coastal areas to partner with other schools to boost attainment.

• Regional School Commissioners should be given responsibility to work with universities, schools and Teach First to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers.

Visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/social-mobility-commission

What is being done in Norfolk

Last year, Norwich was identified as one of 12 areas to receive government funding to create opportunities for disadvantaged children.

Known as the Norwich Opportunity Area initiative, it will aim to:

• Improve speech, language and communication in the early years.

• Support schools to improve teaching and attainment.

• Support children at risk of exclusion.

• Improve young people’s understanding of careers at key transition points as they move through school, college, university and the world of work.

Project manager, Jacqueline Bircham said several projects are already underway, including a training programme for school staff in improving speech, language and communication.

She added another project was aimed at providing role models and mentoring to the most disadvantaged young people.

Council response

Breckland District Council, which was ranked as being one of the worst for social mobility in the county, said the report shows Norfolk as a whole was facing a number of challenges.

It said: “Within Breckland, we are encouraging housing growth, helping existing businesses to expand, attracting new businesses to the area, and collaborating on strategies to improve the district’s skills base.

“These all help to boost the local economy and enable people to access employment or develop their existing careers.”

Meanwhile, Karen Davis, Norwich City Council cabinet member with responsibility for social and financial inclusion, said: “Improved social mobility is recognised as a key part of the city’s shared future vision, and a continued partnership approach will be vital to this.

“Norwich City Council is committed to reducing inequality in the city by addressing the economic and environmental factors behind it.

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