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South West businesses must help close the post-pandemic social mobility gap, say new PwC findings

People in the South West want businesses to play a greater part in improving the prospects for social mobility in the region, new PwC research has found.

As the Government plans a post-pandemic catch-up to ensure those from the most deprived backgrounds and future generations are not further disadvantaged, PwC’s Driving Social Mobility research reveals how people in the South West are looking to employers for help.

Three quarters of respondents are looking for businesses to provide work experience placements and non-graduate routes into employment (72%), support upskilling (70%) and mentoring (68%) - all of which play an important role in social mobility.

Almost three-quarters want business to work closely with schools and education providers to raise awareness of career opportunities and seven in ten think the Government should work with local businesses to offer more hands-on experience as part of the education catch-up process. 

Some 65% want businesses to support social mobility within disadvantaged communities in the areas where they operate.

How PwC is helping

PwC is already leading the way in this space with a number of initiatives to support social mobility. 

It has helped students in lockdown with upskilling from a virtual curriculum and is supporting a programme that’s mentoring high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Bristol. Of the last graduate and school leaver intake into its Bristol office, 42% were from a non-selective state school, while it no longer uses the UCAS tariff as an assessment tool for the majority of its undergraduate and graduate opportunities. 

In terms of widening the talent pool, PwC’s recruitment considers the backgrounds of applicants, and its Bristol office has recruited seven students who meet the social mobility criteria for paid work experience this summer.

PwC has also worked with refugees to help them with CVs and job applications, and is partnered with Babbasa, a community-led youth empowerment social enterprise supporting Black, Asian, & minority ethnic people in Bristol's inner-city communities.

Tom Ayerst, Market Senior Partner for PwC in Bristol, commented:

“Quite rightly there is a clear expectation for the Government and businesses to work together to remove barriers and provide greater opportunities to make sure people are getting on based on their potential, and not on their background.  

“We have been clear that businesses have a big part to play in addressing a lack of social mobility across the West of England. That’s why we have made it a priority for our ‘place and purpose’ work to encompass this challenge.

“We are proud to be the top-ranked UK employer in the Social Mobility Employer Index, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We are committed to working with local Government, alongside academic institutions in our region, to find ways to extend our reach into areas where people need the most help.”

The national picture

Six in ten people (61%) say the pandemic has made social mobility more difficult with women more likely to feel this (65%) compared to men (56%). Over half of people (57%) also agree that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds have been further disadvantaged, with people in Wales (62%) and Scotland (61%) feeling the divide the most.

The public lacks optimism for the prospects of future generations. Whilst six in ten (59%) people say they have had more opportunities than their parents, only half (52%) believe younger generations will have the same or better opportunities.

Across the generations, there are different views on barriers to social mobility. Those aged over 55 believe skills and education are the biggest barriers. Younger people (18-34 year olds) are more likely to see ethnicity and lack of a support network (27%), gender, disabilities, and the place where people grow up (24%) as the biggest hurdles.

Respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds feel the biggest barriers to people achieving their potential are ethnicity (38%), compared to 23% of the wider population, followed by gender (28%), disability (25%), lack of support network growing up (24%) and area grew up in (23%).

Significantly more men than women felt ethnicity (25% vs 20%), sexual orientation (13% vs 9%), and religious beliefs (11% vs 7%) are stopping people from achieving their full potential. However, more women (31% vs 21%) felt that the lack of support network was the main thing holding people back.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, senior advisor at PwC and chair of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

“This research is a stark warning that the pandemic risks putting social mobility into reverse. While older people have been the principal health victims of Covid, without action the younger generation will be the biggest economic and social losers from it. 

“COVID-19 has not only exposed the fragility of our care system.  It has also exposed the fragility of our society. Urgent action is needed to put jobs, education and skills for young people at the heart of the Government’s levelling up agenda. 

“But this is too big a job for Whitehall alone. The public wants businesses to more actively step up to the plate to create new opportunities for people to progress in life. A new national mission is needed to address deep inequalities in society.”

Contact us

Neale Graham

Senior manager, Communications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7801 766188

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