When providing Youth Services, it is essential to address the social inequalities that affect young people in the UK today.

Additionally, it is important to be mindful of how social mobility impacts young people. Social mobility is the link between a person’s occupation or income and the occupation or income of their parents. Being mindful of social mobility means ensuring that background doesn’t determine the future.

The Social Mobility Commission [1] reports the UK as ranking 21st in the World Economic Forum’s Index of Social Mobility (2020) [2]. This is worse than all other G7 countries, except for the US and Italy.

Sasha Morgan, Director of the Social Mobility Commission [3] explains that the UK accommodates poorer economic performance, class-based divisions, and an inherently unfair system. Fixing these inequalities could add £130 million to the UK economy by 2030.

What does a Lack of Social Mobility do?

According to the Social Mobility Commission, a lack of social mobility affects:

Access to jobs

  • 60% of people in professional jobs (such as CEOs, senior police officers, doctors, journalists, solicitors, teachers, and nurses) come from professional backgrounds themselves
  • Only 34% of people in professional jobs come from working class backgrounds


  • People from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year than those from professional backgrounds
  • People from working class backgrounds earn on average 17% less than their more privileged counterparts when successfully having entered a professional occupation

Job Training

  • Employer-funded training is more likely to be given to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds in every category of job
  • Half (49%) of adults from low socio-economic backgrounds have received no training since leaving school

Adult Education

  • Between 2010/11 to 2017/18 there was a 30% decline in those participating in state-funded adult education


  • There are disproportionate opportunities for advancement in London. Yet those working from working class backgrounds move regions less and are less likely to move to London where the most opportunities are
Britain's social mobility problem has been misunderstood – education is not  the great leveller

Public Perception

Reporting the results from their annual social mobility barometer (2020).  The Social Mobility Commission found that most people feel that there are fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to their better-off peers.

This included going to a top university (77% of people feel there are fewer opportunities dependent on the social background), owning their own home (71%), access to quality childcare (68%), and leaving school with good qualifications.

There are stark and persistent regional differences in perceived opportunity, with the greatest difference between London and the Northeast. 78% of respondents in London felt that there were good opportunities for people to progress in their region, compared to 31% in the Northeast.

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The Social Mobility Commission: The Social Mobility Barometer (2020)

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The Social Mobility Commission: The Social Mobility Barometer (2020)

Covid 19 – The Impact on Young People

Every driver of poor social mobility – child poverty, income inequality, educational gaps and unemployment for young people – was made worse by Covid-19:

  •  Young people have been one of the groups hardest hit by Covid-19
  •  Young people were twice as likely to be working in sectors that were shut down than the rest of the workforce
  •  Young people are likely missing out on valuable work experience because of the pandemic. This holds true for both those who were furloughed as well as for those in education who are seeking experience as part of a course
  •  Young people have seen the largest declines in paid work, and some have turned to education and training. This is disproportionately the case for those from professional and intermediate backgrounds (up to 4% increase compared to 1% increased for those from working class backgrounds)

Unequal Access to Opportunities

Opportunities to participate are driven by household income, school attended, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location.

Household income is by far the most significant factor driving gaps in participation, with children from the poorest households much less likely to avail themselves of youth services and extra-curricular activities, but especially music classes and sport.

Opportunities to take part in activities also depend on the school that a young person attends, with independent schools more likely to offer a wider breadth and range of activities compared to state schools.

Types of activities are also strongly gendered in their participation, with music, dance, art, and voluntary work having a higher proportion of females and sports being more male-dominated.

Participation in different types of activities differs from ethnic groups. For example, around 4% of British Pakistani Youth take music classes, compared to 28% of British Indian Youth and 20% of White British Youth. Sport is the only activity that has a nearly equal rate of participation across different ethnic groups.

Labour Market and Soft Skills

There is strong evidence from the Social Mobility Commission that there is a demand for soft skills from employers in the UK labour market

The most common soft skill lacking in the labour market is the ability to manage ones’ own time and task prioritisation (51% of all ‘skill-shortage vacancies’ were attributed to this in 2017)

Other ‘skill gaps’ raised by employers included team working, oral communication, and, customer handling. Research from the Social Mobility Commission shows that a correlation between higher levels of some soft skills and upward social mobility defined as an individual having higher educational attainment than their parents.

Supporting Youth Services

The Social Mobility Commission suggests that there ought to be more funding to develop and extend third sector initiatives that successfully facilitate access to extra-curricular activities for young people. In particular, the retention of vital youth club provisions by local authorities.

Additionally, it is recommended that there be a national extra-curricular bursary scheme to encourage young people from all backgrounds to participate.

There should be an increase in the organisational capacity of schools to support their extra-curricular provision and improve information on the activities available in local areas. Data collection should be improved, and further research should be carried out into the nature of soft skill development and deployment of these skills across different settings.

[1] The Social Mobility Commission

[2] World Economic Forum’s Index of Social Mobility (2020)

[3] Morgan, Sasha, 2021. Director of Social Mobility Commission

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This article discusses the implications of a lack of social mobility for young people and recommends what can be done to improve outcomes.

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