Against the backdrop of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has taken a deep look at the progress made in all four UK nations in tackling poverty, addressing inequality, and improving social mobility.
The report reveals that across the UK there are already signs that attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children are getting wider. Every critical measure of low social mobility – child poverty, income inequality, access to stable housing, unemployment for young people and gaps in school attainment – was poor in 2019. The impact of COVID-19 is threatening to make each of these factors worse.
The SMC’s remit is to monitor progress in social mobility across all the key nations, but only to advise on policy in England. Hence the recommendations provide the bedrock for a bold action plan for the UK Government, though many could be mirrored in the other nations. Most pressing is the need to end child poverty which is blocking progress across the whole of the UK.
The recommended seven key pillars of recovery are:
- Geography and local power – A levelling up agenda that promotes equal outcomes for people living in under-invested places, and not just strategies that improve places generally.
- Poverty and living standards – The UK Government should make benefits more generous and account for different sized households in its calculations, starting by reducing child poverty by about a third.
- Early years – Higher pay and a better career structure for a workforce crucial to social mobility. Expansion of the 30 hours per week childcare offer regardless of education or training status.
- Education – A bigger focus on long-term deprivation, funding targeting, post qualification access to university and a student premium for those aged 16 to 19.
- Apprenticeships and adult skills – Increase the share of apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and make sure more get on to the higher levels.
- Digital access – Access to affordable broadband and digital devices for all households, as well as the skills to thrive in a 21st century world.
- Work and career progression – Ensure that all employers measure the social diversity of their workforce and focus on career progression for those from lower socio-economic background, including those in low paid jobs.