Huge regional inequalities in Britain fuelled last year’s Brexit vote as it showed how vast swathes of the country felt “left behind”, the Government’s social mobility Tsar has told HuffPost UK.
A new report by The Social Mobility Commission found that a long-standing problem of London’s dominance and the rest of the country trailling behind has worsened in the past 20 years, and further still since 2010.
The study found a link between dozens of areas with poor social mobility and places with higher than average support for Brexit - with all but three voting to leave the EU.
Places such as Stoke On Trent, which voted 69% leave, Scarborough, which voted 62% leave, and Torridge, which voted 60% leave were all shown to have problems with social mobility.
It also found that while London pulled away from the rest of the UK in levels of education and employment since the recession, other regions languished behind. The capital voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
London was the fastest region to recover from the financial crash in terms of unemployment, while Yorkshire and the Humber, the South West, and North East failed to recover the number of jobs to pre-crisis levels.
The problem, described as a “new geography” by the report, has become so acute in some regions that the UK now has “greater regional disparities… than any other European country.”
Now the commission has set out a number of recommendations to government to tackle the issue.
Former Labour minister Alan Milburn, the commission’s chair, told HuffPost UK that old assumptions that the economy could get by with growth driven by London was “not sustainable”
“The numbers speak for themselves. The consequence is now felt in an overheated London property market and an underrated local labour market in many other parts of the countries,” he said.
“Indeed the chickens were brought dramatically home to roost during the EU referendum campaign last year with all but three areas we have identified as ‘cold spots’ voted to leave.
“There was undoubtedly a correlation between that feeling of being left behind economically and their vote to leave the EU.”
The recommendations include:
- To have an ambition to make the UK the country with lowest level of low pay in the OECD by 2030
- To increase high-skilled jobs in the regions and encourage public and private sector investment in ‘left behind’ areas
- Give local authorities more power to attract employers to areas
- Make socio-economic diversity a priority across large employers and the Civil Service
Speaking about encouraging investment outside of London, Milburn mentioned the effect of the BBC’s move to Salford in 2012.
“It has directly created jobs there and also provided a cluster effect for a wider set of industries. In many parts of the country there isn’t a sort of magnet to attract new employers and growth,” he said.
Yet a similar move of Channel 4 away from London was pledged in the Conservative manifesto, but last week failed to appear in its Queen Speech agenda.
The Social Mobility Commission was set up in 2016 to assess progress in improving social mobility.
Its findings will now be considered by the government - and they’ve already been seized upon by campaigners.
Dr. Wanda Wyporska, executive director of charity The Equality Trust, said: “For too many people in the UK, being born into poverty still means dying in poverty.
“Twenty years of failed policy has condemned generations to a half-life of narrowed horizons, perpetual anxiety, and the knowledge that the next rung above them is beyond their reach regardless of their efforts.”