Sadly, it may come as no surprise that earlier this week a government report revealed that Norfolk is one of the worst areas in the country for social mobility. Often stereotyped as a rural backwater and with a disappointingly spot on reputation for appalling educational standards and failing children’s services in recent years, it is awful that the government appear to be finding this acceptable and are not increasing funds for social mobility in our county.
While it is unfortunately not too surprising that rural Norfolk isn’t great for social mobility, the equally poor ranking for the city of Norwich will shock many. Our fine city is often hailed as some sort of utopia, full of educated professionals, left wing representation and a good jobs market, but the embarrassing fact is that Norwich isn’t always as perfect as we think. Outside of the affluent city centre and Golden Triangle, there are areas of real deprivation – and no serious attempt by our Tory government is being made to fix this.
Last year, the government had announced that Norwich was to become one of six new ‘opportunity areas’ in a bid to improve social mobility in the city through extra funding. The government allocated £60m for the six areas across the UK including West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, Scarborough, Derby and Oldham. These extra funds would be used to promote teaching and leadership in schools and colleges as well as to work with organisations focussed on improving skills, knowledge and career opportunities for young people. While we can all welcome the idea of promoting social mobility in Norwich, this policy is yet another empty pledge.
the embarrassing fact is that Norwich isn’t always as perfect as we think
The money promised as part of the opportunity areas scheme will not nearly match the amount being taken from education, as Norwich’s schools funding over the next few years is set to be slashed by £14.8m. Not only does this mean a lack of classroom resources and equipment, but also potentially larger classes and a lack of teachers in Norwich schools. Coupled with other Tory cuts which are causing increased food bank usage, potential closures of children’s centres across Norfolk and other adult services, it’s almost laughable that this government consider themselves champions of social mobility. ‘Opportunity area’ is simply another meaningless buzzword like ‘Northern Powerhouse’ or ‘strong and stable’.
So what can be done to fix our social mobility problem?
Interestingly enough, it’s something that would be helped by – surprise, surprise – an end to spending cuts. Increased funding for teachers and education, careers advice services, apprenticeship schemes and other adult services would help alleviate the problem massively. While I don’t believe in any sort of government conspiracy to keep people stuck at the bottom of the social ladder – I do however, believe in an astonishing lack of awareness and complete absence of compassion from the Tory party.
‘Opportunity area’ is simply another meaningless buzzword like ‘Northern Powerhouse’ or ‘strong and stable’.
There is no doubt that the government know this is an issue that people care about. The Prime Minister often claims to care about the problem and has brought it up in a number of speeches. Norwich North’s Chloe Smith even chaired a social mobility roundtable in the city to respond to last year’s index ranking which showed the poorest children in Norwich have some of the worst life chances in the country – but it is clear nothing has changed during this time.
While we citizens don’t have the power to increase government funding, we do have the power to kick out Tories who believe in empty rhetoric over positive action. This Tory government is viewing poverty and an absence of opportunity as normal for Norfolk. It is entirely down to us as voters and activists to make sure their MPs and councillors who are supporting this lack of funding are punished at the ballot box in future elections if we want things to change. Perhaps the rest of the country could join us in that, and ensure that people in Britain don’t have to accept the effects of our public services being starved of funding by an inadequate, uncaring and incompetent Tory government.
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