Press release

Social mobility in the Northern Powerhouse

Northern businesses have a crucial role in boosting social mobility says the Rt Hon Alan Milburn.


Big businesses in the Northern Powerhouse have a crucial role to play in boosting social mobility in the north of England, Social Mobility Commission Chair Alan Milburn will say today (Thursday 16 December). He will warn that there is a new geography of disadvantage in many parts of the UK which has seen whole communities socially-hollowed out and millions of ‘treadmill’ families feeling left behind.

Mr Milburn will say that low levels of social mobility in many areas means it has never been more important for employers, universities, colleges, schools, councils and communities in the north to work together to create a more level playing field of opportunity.

During his visit, Mr Milburn will meet Salford Mayor Paul Dennett and host a roundtable of senior business, education and political leaders at Media City to share experiences and discuss ways to improve social mobility in the area.

He will say that there is a pressing need to look at new ways of rebalancing economic growth by creating jobs and devolving power in the UK’s towns, cities and counties.

The Social Mobility Commission’s social mobility index, which was published earlier this year, found that old industrial towns and coal mining areas that have struggled as England has moved from a manufacturing to a services-based economy now dominate the areas identified as social mobility coldspots. These are spread around the country but include many areas in the north – including the areas of Blackpool, Tameside and Oldham.

The Commission has uncovered large differences in life chances between similar areas that are only a few miles apart – Trafford performs in the top 10% of local authorities in England whilst Oldham and Tameside are in the worst 10%. The high-performing areas have common features, including good transport links and diverse populations.

Addressing local employers at the roundtable, Mr Milburn will say:

There is a new geography of disadvantage in Britain today. Many regions have fallen further and further behind London and the South East. Limited education and employment opportunities in many urban and rural communities – not just those in the north – are forcing aspirational youngsters to move out in order to get on. These ‘left behind’ parts of Britain are becoming socially hollowed out.

It is no surprise that populism of right and of left is on the march when a growing number of people feel like they are losing out unfairly. That is why addressing social mobility should be the holy grail of public policy and the cause which unites government, business and communities to action.

I am pleased to be in Salford today to hear directly from local businesses and political leaders about their experiences and to examine ways in which the Northern Powerhouse can build a new coalition of employers, universities, colleges, schools, councils and communities working together with one core purpose: a more level playing field of opportunity in Britain.

Notes for editors

1.The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. It currently consists of four commissioners and is supported by a small secretariat.

2.The commission board currently comprises:

  • Alan Milburn (chair)

  • Baroness Gillian Shephard (deputy chair)

  • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath

  • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation

3.The functions of the commission include:

  • monitoring progress on improving social mobility

  • providing published advice to ministers on matters relating to social mobility

  • undertaking social mobility advocacy

4.The Social Mobility Commission recent annual report ‘State of the Nation 2016: Social Mobility in Great Britain’ found:

In the North West:

  • Less than half of children from low-income families (48%) are school-ready at 5, compared to more than two-thirds of their wealthier peers (67%). The local authority with the biggest development gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children in the early years is Wigan, where just 41% of poorer children are school-ready at 5.

  • Blackpool, Knowsley and Oldham are all among the 10 local authority areas with the largest proportion of children in schools rated inadequate.

  • Just 3.9% of children eligible for free school meals gain 5 A grades at GCSE. In Knowsley, only 1 in 5 children eligible for free school meals achieve 5 GCSEs at grade C or above (including English and maths).

  • Blackpool is one of the worst local authorities in the country for keeping poorer children in education after 16. Some 18% of poorer young people are not in education or training (NET) at 16, compared to 7% in the 6 best local authorities.

  • At Bolton University, nearly a quarter of all students from low participation areas end up dropping out before they complete their courses.

  • Near three-quarters of local authorities in the North West have more than 1 in 4 workers earning below the living wage, compared to less than 1 in 4 local authorities in the South East. The lowest hourly pay averages in the country are Rosendale - £8.83 and Eden - £8.97.

For further information please contact:

Kirsty Walker, the Social Mobility Commission, on 0207227 5371 / 07768 446167 or

Published 15 December 2016