We aren’t giving young people in Shropshire the best chance in life, according to new data published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. We are about to launch a resilient communities project in Ludlow to tackle this.
Let’s have a look at the data first.
The commission’s social mobility index looks at the chances people have of doing well in life dependant on where they live. It is no surprise that children in Westminster have the greatest social mobility, though many unfamiliar with West Somerset might not guess it is the least socially mobile district in England. If I had been asked to guess where we perform as a county, I would have said “middling, about midway”.
The Social Mobility Index puts Shropshire just below midway in social mobility, 185th among 324 local authority districts.
This headline score disguises our rather poor position on social mobility of youth.
The youth ranking summarises the extent to which young people who have been on free school meals have access to and gain qualifications. In Shropshire, we are ranked at position 249, in the bottom 25% of social mobility for youth.
Shropshire’s rank out of 324 local authority districts.
1 = most socially mobile. 324 = least
This data raises serious concerns. It suggests that young people who begin with poor life chances don’t get better opportunities when they get older. It tells us that too many children born into low income families grow up to live on low incomes. When parents have few educational qualifications, their children are inclined not to do well at school or enter university. Some families experience successive generations who are more often out of work than not.
This is a worrying picture. It will not be helped by Shropshire Council’s plans to slash its barely adequate youth funding by 71% in April 2017. This might leave enough money to open council to pay for administration but it doesn’t look like there will be enough to fund any youth activities.
This budget has great dangers for Ludlow. Our youth services are back up and running after a damaging and costly commissioning experiment inflicted on us by Shropshire Council. Ludlow only gets £10,700 for youth services this year. I am not sure we will get any money for youth activities in 2017. It looks like there won’t be any money to run the Youth Centre either.
But we have not been able to persuade the council to consider transferring the Youth Centre to the safer hands of a local body (a community asset transfer). Our town fought for ten years to get a central hub for our young people. We need to retain the Youth Centre. But with the cuts in youth funding, we will struggle to open the Youth Centre. I worry that Shropshire Council will decide the building is surplus to requirements and sell it.
We need to look to the future.
We are determined that the Youth Centre should transfer to local control. There are several options. Ludlow Town Council might run it. Or a local charity or community interest company. But at present, Shropshire Council continues to block a community asset transfer. Tracey Huffer and I are to hold meetings with officers and cabinet members later this month to get this transfer unblocked.
Having a dedicated building for youth will allow us to continue to tackle the day to day problems we have with young people in this town. But a building alone won’t solve our problems with social mobility. We need to look at the longer term. We are just beginning to doing that.
Through the Local Joint Committee and Shropshire Council, we are working with Locality, a company with a passion to strengthen communities around the country. We are at the first stages of a resilient communities project. This aims to help Ludlow become more self-sufficient at a time when Shropshire Council is walking away from its responsibilities for the social welfare of our county.
Our first priority for resilient communities is young people. We must find ways of giving our youngsters the best opportunities. Our aim should be to stride up the social mobility index. Just because we are rural, just because we are Ludlow, doesn’t mean that we can’t be amongst the best achievers in helping people get on in life.
I will bring you more news of the resilient communities project as it develops. I hope that many of you will be involved in it.