Families face being locked into disadvantage for generations unless the issue of social mobility is urgently tackled, the government’s advisory body on life chances in England has warned.
The social mobility commission called on regional leaders to draw up tailored, sustained and local programmes to tackle disparities in the worst-hit areas.
It also urged ministers to extend its opportunity areas programme, which supports 12 councils, to include several more authorities identified as the areas with the most entrenched disadvantage.
The areas with the worst social mobility include Chiltern, Bradford, Thanet, Bolton, Wolverhampton, Kingston-upon-Hull, Fenland, Mansfield, Walsall, Gateshead, Kirklees, St Helens, Dudley, Bolton and Wigan, the report says.
It added that in these areas, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and who were entitled to free school meals had little chance of making a better life for themselves or their families and earned much less than their more affluent peers.
Individuals aged 28 from disadvantaged families in these council areas earned on average just over half the amount of those from similar backgrounds in the most mobile areas, the study also found.
The interim co-chair of the commission, Steven Cooper, described the findings as “very challenging”.
“They tell a story of deep unfairness, determined by where you grow up. It is not a story of north versus south or urban versus rural; this is a story of local areas side by side with vastly different outcomes for the disadvantaged sons growing up there,” he said.
The research, carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), found that disadvantaged young adults in areas with high social mobility could earn twice as much as their counterparts in areas where it was low – more than £20,000 compared with less than £10,000.
Pay gaps between deprived and affluent young adults in areas with low social mobility were also 2.5 times larger than those in areas with high social mobility.
The study found that in areas of low social mobility, up to 33% of the pay gap was being driven by family background and local market factors more than educational achievement.
It added that “cold” social mobility spots often had fewer professional and managerial occupations, fewer outstanding schools, higher levels of deprivation and moderate population density.
Councils with the lowest earnings for disadvantaged individuals include Bradford, Hyndburn, Gateshead, Thanet, West Devon, Sheffield, Malvern Hills and Kensington and Chelsea.
Prof Lindsey Macmillan, director of the CEPEO and research fellow at the IFS, said: “This new evidence highlights the need for a joined-up approach across government, third-sector organisations and employers.
“The education system alone cannot tackle this postcode lottery – a strategy that considers the entire life experience, from birth through to adulthood, is crucial to ensuring fairer life chances for all.”
Laura van der Erve, a research economist at the IFS and co-author of the report, said: “Not only do children from disadvantaged backgrounds have considerably lower school attainment and lower adult earnings than their peers from more affluent backgrounds, we also find large differences in the outcomes of children from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country.
“This highlights that children’s opportunities in England are still defined by both the family they were born into and the area they grew up in.”
A government spokeswoman said: “The needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable remain central to all our work. We continue to invest heavily to close the attainment gap through initiatives like the £1bn Covid catchup fund and pupil premium funding, and through investment in childcare and early years education.
“On top of this, we are investing £90m in 12 opportunity areas to improve skills and outcomes for thousands of young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of England, with a focus this year on rolling out initiatives that have worked in other areas to help other places tackle similar challenges.”