In this article, Alexandra Sufit of the Social Mobility Commission discusses their new report, Moving out to move on: Understanding the link between migration and disadvantage.

Our new report – Moving out to move on: Understanding the link between migration and disadvantage – investigates the relationship between migration within Great Britain and social mobility. The choices people make in terms of moving regions are crucial as they have a direct impact on job prospects and earnings.

‘The report reveals stark geographical inequalities in economic prosperity’

The outcome for movers, in general, is far better than for those who remain. There is a 33% differential– mean gross real monthly earnings for movers are £2,327, compared with £1,739 for those who remain. That is because those who stay may suffer from a lack of opportunities, remaining in areas that lack the economic infrastructure and offer fewer better-paid jobs.

Our 2018/2019 State of the Nation report found that people from working-class backgrounds were less likely to migrate to London or other areas offering increased opportunities.

Conversely, the migration of young people (the peak age for movers is early 20s) could potentially widen the divide between regions even further – if it results in substantial workforce shortages in the areas they choose to leave.

Our main findings show that:

  • People from higher socio-economic backgrounds are the most geographically mobile – and movers from all groups experience better employment outcomes.
  • Individuals from a higher socio-economic background are more likely to move to affluent areas, but they also move to deprived areas – while this could be beneficial for the local economy, it can also lead to gentrification, pushing others further afield.
  • An individual from a poor community is four times more likely to move to another deprived area. One important reason for this is the cost of living, in particular, housing costs – the proportion of movers owning their home is almost 10 percentage points lower than for stayers.
  • Movers, including those moving from the most deprived areas, are more likely to be employed, to be employed in a higher-level occupation and to earn more. This is partly explained by the fact movers tend to be more highly educated (56% have a degree).
  • The picture for those who stay behind is less rosy. Men who stay in the most deprived regions are 14.3 percentage points less likely to be employed at the highest occupation levels and women are 7.8 percentage points less likely to be employed in professional or technical occupations.
  • Differences between the outcome for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who move and those who stay are more significant than the outcome for those from affluent backgrounds.

On the basis of these findings, one key suggestion we are making to policymakers is to encourage local authorities and employers to work together – to identify and correct any mismatch between local skills and local needs. This will hopefully lead to a surge in reskilling programmes (apprenticeships) and incentivise organisations to relocate to regions that would benefit from a rise in employment opportunities.

The research was carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies. IES Lead author, Dafni Papoutsaki, said:

“Policies that support both the individual and enhance infrastructure in less well-off areas can provide opportunities and a genuine choice of where to work and live, regardless of one’s background.”

COVID-19 also has the potential to transform internal migration, by allowing more people to stay where they grew up and work from home. While the pandemic could make life harder for those with low-paid jobs in more deprived areas, it could be an opportunity to revolutionise working patterns.

“COVID-19 has shown that we can begin to do things differently,” said Sandra Wallace, joint interim chair, and joint managing director Europe at DLA Piper. “Home working has been successful for many employers and for particular job roles.” 

The SMC would also encourage employers to expand the geographical diversity of their workforce by recruiting beyond their physical headquarters and setting up proper flexible working arrangements, allowing people to continue working from home.

To find out more, you can read the full report here.

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