New information on our children’s futures – urgent action needed
The latest data on life chances in South Dorset make alarming reading. In October the House of Commons Library published new research on opportunities for children across England. This showed that South Dorset ranks bottom among 533 parliamentary constituencies for social mobility – the likelihood that children from “disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds” will do well as adults in terms of jobs, income and housing.*
Children in Weymouth and Portland face particularly acute challenges. All areas of South Dorset face problems of employment and housing. However, in Weymouth & Portland – the major urban area of the constituency – job opportunities are limited, incomes are low and schools face a daunting challenge to meet children’s needs.
The latest figures suggest that Weymouth & Portland falls far below the base level for social mobility measured across the whole of England.
The Social Mobility Index by Constituency (SMIC) measures life chances of disadvantaged children – prospects for those eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Among several indices of educational attainment and employment prospects, it finds:
- only 46 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM achieved “a good level of development” at the end of the Foundation Stage of education. South Dorset ranked 522 of 533 constituencies across England for Early Years attainment;
- only 28 per cent of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM achieved the expected national level of achievement at the end of Key Stage 4. South Dorset ranked 530 of 533 constituencies at the School stage of attainment;
- the average points score of children in South Dorset eligible for FSM at age 15 taking A-levels or equivalent was 19: South Dorset ranked 451 of 533 constituencies at the Youth stage of attainment;
- almost 40 per cent of all jobs in South Dorset paid less than the Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. South Dorset ranked 512 of 533 constituencies at the Adulthood stage of attainment.
Aggregated results placed South Dorset bottom of the national index.
When more stable areas of the South Dorset constituency are abstracted from these figures the situation in Weymouth & Portland is revealed starkly as an area in economic and social decline. More than two-thirds of the population of South Dorset is concentrated in Weymouth & Portland, where significant numbers of children are now grossly disadvantaged by national standards.
Are elected representatives of people in South Dorset in denial of these realities? Neither members of parliament nor local councils have addressed mounting evidence of economic and social crisis, especially in Weymouth & Portland.
When in May 2018 WeyPAW invited South Dorset MP Richard Drax and West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin (whose constituency borders Weymouth & Portland) to plan a conference addressing these issues, both refused – and local councils failed to respond.
WeyPAW convenor Philip Marfleet said: “The crisis in Weymouth & Portland is clear to see in these statistics but more important is the reality for young people in the area.
“I’m proud to come from Dorset and to live in the county. But I’m not proud of being bottom of the list for jobs, wages and educational achievement.
“Our MPs and councillors need to take the initiative with policies that address low pay, part-time jobs and inadequate contracts – and act urgently to support teachers and school staff with resources to boost education. Are MPs and councils really going to sit back and let the decline go on relentlessly?
“WeyPAW will continue to highlight these issues as matters of social justice that require changes of policy and urgent action.”
Comment from WeyPAW
Further information and comment is available from Philip Marfleet:
*See the SMIC index, available at: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8400#fullreport
The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory non-departmental public body that: “monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England”.
The Commission’s research, it says, “offers a good guide to which areas provide young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the best opportunity to do well as adults and it can be used to identify differences between local areas in the extent to which disadvantaged young people are likely to be able to fulfil their potential.”