Young people in the South West 'doomed' because of where they live

Many young people in the West Country are 'doomed' purely because of where they live, according to one of the authors of a new report.

The report by the University of Exeter has looked at the quality of education and career options in the peninsula.

The UK's first professor of social mobility, Lee Elliot Major, has now called for urgent action as the prospects for children in the region slip further behind the rest of the country.

The report - the result of a year-long review, warns low wages, geographical disconnection and a lack of impetus for change amongst some leaders are harming the lives of people in the South West.

Professor Elliot Major said: “We hope that this will be a wake-up call for a region which faces some of the most profound social and educational divides in the country.

"Our evidence demonstrates to central Government that levelling up efforts must prioritise the South West. Improving social mobility is about ensuring that all people fulfil their potential and lead full lives in the communities they come from.

20 year-old Daisy Gallagher, from Watchet, works as an operations technician at Hinkley Point C

"It shouldn't be down to where you live that determines your life chance. It should be down to how hard you work, how much talent you’ve got for different things.

"I think it's deeply tragic that we're finding that in many parts of the South West you're almost doomed because of where you happen to come from and that is a tragedy in the 21st century in modern Britain."

Professor Elliot Major worked alongside Dr Anne-Marie Sim on Social Mobility in the South West. They propose a series of educational interventions to help improve young lives, including recruiting university students to help tutor poorer pupils in local schools and trialling school-centred community hubs to coordinate help for families.

Dr Sim said: "The rates of free school meals in the region are lower than in many other regions. But we think a lot of that actually isn't being picked up. The various reports on rural disadvantage show how rural disadvantage is just not counted as much.

"I think it's a bunch of different things, really, but all culminating in this lack of impetus for change."

Whilst the report focuses on disadvantaged children, it is clear that all young people in the region face a challenge to find jobs and progression close to their homes.

Someone who has managed that is 20 year-old Daisy Gallagher from Watchet, who works as an operations technician at Hinkley Point C.She said: "Uni was never really for me. That wasn't really the route that I wanted to take. I knew that I wanted to get straight into work and workplace experience and, in terms of around here, there wasn't a lot for what I wanted to do.

"EDF has such great opportunities for development as well. So in terms of actually getting into my role and then developing further, this was the best place for me. If I wasn't here, then I honestly can't tell you what I'd be doing."

The Department for Levelling Up says multi-million pound investments are being made to improve opportunities for young people

The Department for Levelling Up says multi-million pound investments are being made across the South West to improve opportunities for young people.

EDF Energy, meanwhile, hopes Hinkley Point C can be a catalyst for the region with the opening of this specialist welding training centre at Bridgwater & Taunton College one example of what it’s doing to help tackle the social mobility problem.

Andrew Cockroft, Senior Community Relations Manager, said: "That joins three other new centres of excellence here in Bridgwater and Cannington to access these higher skilled, higher paying jobs.

"They can then come in, there’s support for them to come into the project and then they can continue to build their careers that can really take them anywhere."

Andy Berry, Principle and Chief Executive of Bridgwater & Taunton College, said: “The partnership between Bridgwater & Taunton College and Hinkley Point C continues to open up new training and employment opportunities for everyone – no matter their age, background or previous skill set.

"The new training Centres of Excellence are not only making a difference to local career prospects today but will ensure Somerset has the skills needed for the next generation of net-zero projects.”