New evidence of deprivation in West Somerset has come from a government report saying it has the worst record in England for social mobility. Labour says lessons must be learned about how to improve prospects for young people in the district.
The social mobility index compares the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the 324 local authority areas in England. West Somerset is in last place, largely because of low wages and a poor record on education in the pre-school years.
North-South divide out of date
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission studied children’s experiences in their early years; at school; in the first years after leaving school and in adult life. It found that the idea of a north-south divide in social prospects is now out of date, with coastal areas such as West Somerset among the worst places to grow up in.
The commission’s chair Alan Milburn said: “The social mobility index uncovers a new geography of disadvantage in England. It lays bare the local lottery in social mobility. It gets beneath the surface of a crude north-south divide and calls into question some of the conventional wisdom about where disadvantage is now located. This report is a wake-up call for educators and employers as well as policy-makers, both local and national. If social mobility is to take off, much more will need to be done if there is to be a level playing field of opportunity in our country.”
West Somerset Labour secretary Andy Lewis said:“One of the major factors limiting social mobility in West Somerset is the lack of decently-paid jobs. The social mobility index shows yet again that too many adults in our district do not receive the living wage and that high property prices make life difficult for families. This highlights the importance of attracting high quality employment and ensuring that there is affordable housing.
“The report suggests that our schools are doing reasonably well. But the findings about experiences in children’s early years are disturbing. The commission looked at provision of nurseries, and children’s development at the age of five. West Somerset came 323rd out of 324 areas.
“Labour’s Sure Start programme has been run down by the Tories locally and nationally. We hope policy makers at Somerset County Council and elsewhere will now see the importance of giving children in the pre-school years the chances they need.”
Two council areas in Somerset have better than average social mobility, according to the report. Taunton Deane was in 150th place out of 324, with Mendip 161st. South Somerset was 218th and Sedgemoor was in 238th position.