‘Bold’ call on social mobility

Government advisers call to raise benefits

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Andy Burnham has welcomed a report by a government advisory body that sets out seven recommendations to avoid what it says is the risk that the “gulf between the rich and the poor will continue to grow ever deeper and wider”.

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation Report 2021 warns that the effect of the pandemic will be profound on a country where already nearly one in three children live in poverty.

‘Investing in people’

Although its powers are limited to monitoring and promoting social mobility, the commission has put forward a series of seven recommendations to take “bold and decisive” action, and says “now is not the time to cut public spending”.

Its report says the government’s levelling up agenda should shift from investing in infrastructure to investing in people, and calls for more generous welfare benefits – including Universal Credit – higher pay for people working in early years education, expansion of the 30 hours childcare offer and more funding for 16-19-year-old education.

It urges ministers to increase the share of apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure access to affordable broadband for all and compel employers to monitor and encourage career progression for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The commission also says metro mayors should be given more powers to tackle geographic inequalities.

Burnham said the State of the Nation Report “makes a clear, compelling and comprehensive argument about what the government needs to do to deliver social mobility and opportunities as it pursues the levelling-up agenda”.

‘Growing inequalities’

He said: “Many of the recommendations echo commitments I made in my manifesto and they would make a real difference in Greater Manchester – outlawing Section 21 [private rental evictions], doing more to protect the rights of our residents in private sector tenancies and building millions of new social homes, boosting the number of traineeships and apprenticeships, as well as tackling digital inclusion head on by making sure people have the skills and kit they need to participate in an increasingly online world.

“As the commission argues, if levelling-up is to mean anything it needs to have social mobility objectives at its heart. I stand ready to work with government to make this report a reality.”

The Social Mobility Commission’s report was also welcomed by the IPPR North thinktank.

“It recognises that the government’s approach to levelling up needs to be as much about investing in people as it is about investing in infrastructure,” said Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow, adding that its emphasis on the importance of ending child poverty and giving greater powers to metro mayors would be “positive steps to really levelling up the country”.

Roscoe said its suggestion to track progress reflects IPPR North’s own State of the North 2020 report findings.

She added: “The commission’s research explains the human consequences of growing inequalities across the country, and the huge challenge we face in resolving them. Consistently, data shows that communities across the North fare worse on measures like child poverty, unemployment rates and educational attainment, making it increasingly difficult for people to live a good life, and the pandemic has exacerbated this.

“When seeking to level up for regions like the North, the government will need to read beyond this report. It could go further by setting out the regional patterns of deprivation and the under-investment that have underpinned some of these inequalities for decades and the need for ambitious, inclusive devolution to resolve them.”

Photo: Burnham “make this report reality” (Shutterstock)

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