Despite the relatively small proportion of children coming from deprived backgrounds, Herefordshire is flagged as a ‘coldspot’ by the government’s social mobility index. This means that, along with many other isolated rural areas, it’s one of the worst 20% of local authorities in England in terms of the chances that disadvantaged children will do well at school and go on to get a good job and secure housing.
There is no correlation between affluence and social mobility – in fact some of the most deprived London boroughs provide the best opportunities for escaping disadvantage whilst some of the most affluent areas of the country are among the worst for offering good education and employment opportunities to their most disadvantaged residents.
According to the 2017 index, the key driver of Herefordshire’s poor social mobility rating is low wages, with 31% of county jobs paying less than the living wage of £8.75 an hour and an average residents’ salary of just over £350 per week – amongst the lowest 10% in England. This suggests that, although young people from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t do too badly at school, their progress is hindered by the job opportunities available locally, making it harder for them to turn this into a decent job and good standard of living as adults.
Transport links can play a part in this – being further away from good jobs means that people either need to relocate or commute, both of which have costs that may prove a barrier, particularly for those from poorer backgrounds. This is undoubtedly an issue in Herefordshire, with more than half of the county being classified as amongst the worst in England in terms of geographical access to services. But children and young people themselves also say they want to be better prepared for adult life, including being given more opportunities to experience work, and better chances to realise their ambitions. All of which suggests there could be opportunities for local business and community leaders to make a difference for disadvantaged youngsters in rural areas.