‘Moving out to move on’: does relocating in the UK impact social mobility?

The Social Mobility Commission and the Institute for Employment Studies have collaborated to produce a report titled ‘Moving out to move on’. You can access a full copy of the report here.

This report builds on the work of previous reports by the Social Mobility Commission -in particular ‘The State of the Nation’ report, which noted that people from working-class backgrounds were less likely to internally migrate (relocate) to areas with more opportunities, whilst young people that can move relatively more freely could potentially widen the opportunity divide through workforce shortages in the areas they have come from.

The aims of ‘Moving out to move on’ were to investigate how people geographically moving around within the UK affects social mobility and further explores whether moving from a poorer area with less opportunities to more affluent areas with more opportunity affects employment outcomes and quality of life.

The report highlights the fact that not everyone who wants to move is able to do so -this opportunity is generally more available to those from more affluent backgrounds. There are important cultural and personal reasons people do not move away from the areas they grew up in. Some of these areas lack both economic and social infrastructure and generally have fewer better paying jobs, less social activities, poorer healthcare and less education and training opportunities.

Key Findings

People from a higher socio-economic background are the most geographically mobile group.

Nearly 60% of people moving have one or both parents that work in higher managerial jobs, compared to 40% of stayers. Those from lower income and class backgrounds are less likely to move than their more affluent peers, whether that be to a more affluent or deprived areas.

Internal migration does not necessarily mean opportunity is equal between those from deprived and affluent areas; people tend to move to an area with a similar level of wealth, social and employment opportunities to the area they are leaving.

Someone from a poor community is four times more likely to move to another deprived area than somewhere with better opportunities. This is also the case for their more-affluent peers who are more likely to relocate to more affluent areas. One main cause of this is the difference in housing costs between areas that are ‘sending’ and areas that are ‘receiving’ people who chose to move.

Movers experience better employment outcomes than stayers.

Those who move are more likely than those who stay to be employed, employed in a higher level job and earn more money. Movers are often educated to a higher level with 56% of those moving having a degree and just less than 40% of those staying having a degree. Those that don’t move are significantly less likely to be employed in higher occupations -14.3% for men, and 7.8% for women.

All movers from all backgrounds have better employment outcomes than their peers that stay put in the area they grew up in.

However, differences between the employment outcomes of movers and stayers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more significant than differences in employment outcomes between movers and stayers from affluent backgrounds. Moving matters more for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with 47.1% of movers, compared to 32.2% of stayers, finding employment in higher position job roles.

Those who move to affluent city centres do not necessarily have a better quality of life than those who stay.

Some of the issues facing people from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds were the cost of living (particularly from London) and lack of initial social connections. However they benefited from better healthcare, increased educational and social activity opportunities and enjoyed better public transport.


The report calls for more cooperation between leaders and makes suggestions about what those conversations should focus on.


Universities and colleges should work together to ensure each local area has an inclusive and flexible local education offer for school leavers and adults.

  • How can local gaps in educational provision be addressed?
  • How can institutions support those from less advantaged backgrounds with social and financial barriers?

Place-based Identity:

Local authorities, metro mayors, community groups and bigger employers should join forces to strengthen the cultural sense of place identity in every local community.

  • What institutions are already interlinked with a place’s identity, that can harness the history, identity and prosperity of a place to further foster a sense of identity?
  • How can leaders give enough strategic priority to re-building place identities?
  • How might approaches differ in places with more transient populations?

Local Labour Market:

Local authorities and employers should work with colleges and training providers to identify and correct any mismatch between local skills and local needs. This will enable effective reskilling programmes and provide the foundations for public and private sector institutions to gain confidence in relocating to local places

  • How can local authorities identify the skills required in their areas? Do they have the relevant input from employers of different sizes?
  • Are colleges, universities and other training providers capable of adapting to the changing needs of the local  labour market?
  • Is there a strong and consistent engagement between colleges and employers to ensure a smooth transition from education to employment?

Local Infrastructure:

The main characteristics of a place that enable them to attract and retain new people (and businesses) are jobs and education, closely followed by digital infrastructure and skills, good transport connectivity and good quality housing. Given the impacts of Covid-19, this should be at the forefront of leaders thinking.

  • How can metro mayors consider social mobility and promote inclusive growth at the heart of planning in housing and transport?
  • How might digital skills that improve participation for vulnerable groups be delivered locally?

Geographically Diverse Workforces

Many employers have embraced remote working out of necessity during the pandemic. As part of a commitment to social mobility, employers should think about how employees can progress that do not only include the more traditional route of working in physical premises and think about how flexible working arrangements can diversify the geography of where they are recruiting from.

  • How can employers build non location-centric workplace cultures?

Our Commentary

Youth Employment UK welcomes this research from the Social Mobility Commission. As we enter a turbulent labour market and see some communities lose jobs, it is essential that we understand how the movement of people will play a role in enhancing a person’s mobility, but also enhancing or further disadvantaging a place. Particularly as we read that not all people who want to move, can move, so the importance of ensuring local thriving economies and how to stimulate them is critical to a more equal opportunity.

Back in 2018, our report ‘The Role of Family in Social Mobility’ highlighted that those from more affluent families have better prospects of social mobility through two main agents -economic and cultural capital. Where levels of wealth were higher (economic capital), parents were able to pay for better education (cultural capital). More affluent parents also tended to have better social capital (good quality networks) and were able to provide this for their children through paying for activities that they may have connections in their networks.

We have co-founded the Covid-19 Youth Employment Group that looks to combat some of these issues by pulling together organisations, institutions and experts to produce a set of recommendations to the government based on the premise of a Youth Guarantee. This group looks to ensure no one is left behind as the country looks to deal with the underlying problems of the labour market, such as the lack of social mobility, and the damage caused by Covid-19.

For more information, please email info@youthemployment.org.uk or call 01536 513388.

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