To boost social mobility, cities need to work together on inclusive growth

  • Case studies conducted by Demos in LeedsBradford and Southend as part of the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index find that boosting social mobility requires cities to work together on a ‘place based’ approach to inclusive growth.
  • Demos’ qualitative research underlined how localised migration creates challenges for effective inclusive growth and social mobility in a way that does not merely shift demand and opportunities between areas.
  • Citizens in Bradford were concerned by a local ‘brain-drain’ affect, with nearby Leeds “inevitably” attracting high skilled workers.
  • Whilst Bradford citizens believe the city offers good educational opportunities, they also believe the relative success of Leeds now needs to be spread across the West Yorkshire region.
  • This reflects the cities’ contrasting ranking on the Good Growth for Cities Index 2017. Both improved significantly but differences on two key social mobility metrics – skills and new business starts –underline Leeds’s higher ranking overall.
  • In Southend – a middle-ranking city in the Good Growth for Cities Index 2017 – citizens felt positive about a recent multi-million pound regeneration of the seafront area but were concerned about skills shortages and social problems such as homelessness.

Demos-PWC Good Growth for Cities Index 2017.

The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index, now in its seventh year, measures the current performance of 42 of the largest UK cities and all Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas in England, based on a qualitative assessment of ten indicators the public see as key to economic wellbeing and inclusive growth.

Overall, the Good Growth for Cities Index saw every city improve its ranking on 2016. In addition it found:

  • Oxford and Reading top the index for second year running, but Birmingham is most improved
  • Cities in the Midlands and North of England are amongst fastest improving cities this year
  • Strongly improving performance from new Metro mayor cities such as Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Liverpool
  • The price of success is reduced housing affordability and increased average commuting times
  • There is a critical need for local industrial strategies that address housing, transport and skills gaps – particularly in social mobility opportunity areas

Case Studies

Demos also conducted on-the-ground interviews with citizens in West Yorkshire (Leeds and Bradford) and Southend. In speaking to local people Demos captured the lived experience of citizens in three of the cities ranked in the Index.

West Yorkshire

In-keeping with previous years, Demos’ findings show that Bradford and Leeds have highly contrasting levels of social mobility, economic success and wellbeing. Leeds is in the ‘top 10 improvers’, whilst Bradford ranks in the bottom six. Nevertheless, both cities improved their performance from last year.

Demos found that many Bradford citizens expressed concern that, despite the city’s good educational opportunities, the local economy suffers from migration of skilled labour to Leeds:

“The professional people from Bradford have all moved to Leeds. And the big firms. I don’t think we can compete anymore. It is what it is, really. There are certainly more opportunities in Leeds.”

Whilst Bradford citizens believe the city offers good educational opportunities, they also believe the relative success of Leeds now needs to be spread across the West Yorkshire region. In Leeds, citizens felt, on average, more positive about the city’s social mobility credentials:

“Yes, there are plenty of opportunities here nowadays for kids and young people, lots of different avenues. Not only university but also colleges and lots of apprenticeships for those who are willing to work hard”.


In Southend – a middle-ranking city in the Good for Growth for Cities Index – citizens’ expressed a concern that there were a limited variety of labour market opportunities in the city, with many feeling the majority of jobs available were restricted to the retail and service industries. Some citizens would like to see more jobs in high-skilled growth sectors, like science, engineering and technology:

“I think you can go to most of these shops and get a job, but technology, some ambitious jobs? You have to travel around. We don’t have a lot of options like this”.

Southend citizens felt broadly positive about a recent multi-million pound regeneration of the seafront area. However, they expressed concerns about social issues such as homelessness or the decline of the High Street.

Based on the findings of the report, Demos recommends:

  • Policymakers must attempt to spread Leeds’s continued success on social mobility throughout West Yorkshire – a key lesson as Bradford looks to develop its Opportunity Area. More broadly, boosting social mobility requires nearby cities to work together on a ‘place-based’ approach to inclusive growth.
  • Effective, inclusive growth should contain social investment as well as economic development strategies. In order to boost citizens’ wellbeing most effectively, the two should always go hand in hand.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Alan Lockey, Head of Modern Economy at Demos said:

“In West Yorkshire, we found considerable concern about a ‘local brain drain’ effect – from Bradford to Leeds. For us, this underlines how the new opportunity area in Bradford should be aligned with a place- based growth strategy across the wider region. Social mobility must be tackled in an inclusive way too –moving opportunities between areas might exasperate existing divisions.

“More broadly, our research found that issues such as homelessness and the decline of the High Street can have a profound impact on how citizens feel about their cities’ economic prospects. This is probably an early warning to city leaders that further improvements are needed”.

For more information about this research project, please contact:

Eva Charalambous – Communications Manager, Demos| 020 7367 4200 | (Out of Hours) 07804252211

To support this research, Demos conducted over 100 short qualitative interviews with a random sample of citizens in three separate locations – Southend, Leeds and Bradford – over the course of two days in October.