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New report highlights action needed to tackle social mobility across the country

Posted on 21 November 2021

A new report launched today warns that more needs to be done to address social mobility across the country, with a plea to “turn the lessons of the pandemic into a powerful agent for change.”

Justine Greening (L) with Professor Kiran Trehan (R) on campus Credit:Alex Holland, University of York

The stark warning forms part of a major new report published by the University of York and Justine Greening’s Purpose Coalition, which aims to highlight key actions required to reduce inequality on a local, national and global scale.

Purpose Coalition was formed by the former Government Minister Justine Greening to help address social mobility in the UK, while the University of York has reaffirmed its commitment to social justice and a University for Public Good in its new Strategy.


York was the first Russell Group University to sign the Social Mobility Pledge and  today’s report furthers the University’s ambition to help make York the UK’s first inclusive learning city through our work with Higher York.

The authors of the hard-hitting report say we need to turn the lessons of the pandemic into a powerful agent for change: informing and shaping the policies behind the levelling up agenda and building back better to create a fairer, more socially mobile society that is diverse, sustainable and inclusive.

The report highlights 16 towns and cities in England at risk of being left further behind because of the pandemic, with a warning that more needs to be done to address social mobility across the country.

The areas identified at risk of a “double opportunity hit” are already among the worst areas for social mobility in England and these areas are going to be particularly badly impacted by coronavirus, the report warns.

Lost generation

The “coldspots” are clustered in the midlands, but also include Norwich, East Cambridgeshire and Crawley in the South East.

The report warns that this “opportunity deficit” overwhelmingly affects people from more disadvantaged communities and backgrounds, with inequalities opening up at the earliest stage and continuing throughout the formative years. 

This is closing down social mobility and opening up the serious risk of creating a lost generation, the report warns.

The report outlines how more needs to be done to tackle social inequality through the 14 ‘Levelling Up Goals’ that track social mobility through key life stages, from early years through to adulthood and older age. The goals will provide a benchmark to track progress, the authors of the report say.

Social justice

Leading figures from business, local government and charities will attend a round-table event on 22 November to launch the report and discuss the challenges and potential solutions to facilitating and implementing the levelling up goals.

The ambitious manifesto outlined in the report demonstrates a continued commitment to social justice and aligns with the University’s vision to help York build back better as we emerge from the pandemic. 

The report highlights some of the work that has already been done to address social mobility, including the University’s support for care leavers, our commitment to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), our Black Access Programme and the success of York Festival of Ideas to drive partnership and cultural and social engagement across the City and beyond thanks to an online version of the festival.

Professor Kiran Trehan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement, said: “Our partnership with Justine Greening and the Purpose Coalition signals the University of York’s determination to lead the national levelling up agenda, shaping it in such a way that the UK not only builds back better, but also builds back fairer.

“We do this by reconnecting with our founding ethos, which is rooted in a tradition of social reform, epitomised by the Rowntree family, that remains as relevant and urgent today as it was a century ago when it helped shape the formation of the welfare state.

“Our shared goal, with the Purpose Coalition, is no less ambitious. It is to make the University, the city and the wider region a powerful catalyst for unlocking social mobility, not just in York or the UK but much further afield.”

Catalyst for change

The University of York’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery added: “Our partnership with the Purpose Coalition will act as a catalyst for change within our own organisation.

“York’s strategic vision is a return to the values of our founders – who endowed the new University with a strong sense of social purpose, drawing on a rich tradition of fighting for social justice and combating inequality that is distinctive to the city of York."

Justine Greening added: “Disadvantage accumulates and we need to reverse these negative life cycles that still exist in too many parts of the country.

“That reverse starts with education and universities are in a unique position to lead the way in meeting this challenge head on, redefining the social contract they have with their local communities.”


Keighley and Ilkley MP, Robbie Moore, said: "We know that talent is spread evenly across our country, but opportunity isn’t. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing regional and local inequalities will be vital to building back better and levelling up our whole country.

"For me, levelling-up is not simply about moving jobs and investment from London to other major cities, but rebalancing our economy so that people in every part of the country have access to good education and opportunities. As Parliamentary Co-Chair of the Levelling Up Goals, I am delighted to see the University of York leading on this work."


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