• Urgent action needed to stop regional inequalities widening and ‘Covid Generation’ being losers from recession
  • New coalition of employers formed to help young people as government is urged to target support at areas with fewest opportunities

The latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) paint a grim picture for young people across the UK, with so-called ‘left-behind’ areas particularly hard hit, according to new analysis by the Department for Opportunities.

The new research is accompanied by a warning from former Cabinet Minister Alan Milburn that, without urgent action to protect young people from the worst impact of the coming recession, social mobility will fall and regional inequalities will widen.

Past recessions have hit young people hardest and, even before the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy has been felt, the latest ONS figures show one-fifth of those claiming out-of-work benefits are aged 18–24.

New analysis from the Department for Opportunities shows:

  • A clear link between areas that have previously been rated ‘social mobility cold spots’ by the governments own Social Mobility Commission and those that have high numbers of young people now claiming benefits. 
  • Young people in the ten Local Authorities ranked lowest on social mobility are 32% more likely to be claiming out of work benefits than those in the 10 ranked highest. 
  • Young people in former Labour ‘Red Wall’ seats are 34% more likely to be claiming out of work benefits than the rest of the UK (11.8% compared to 8.8%). 
  • The North East and North West are the hardest hit English regions with over 10% of young people claiming out of work benefits, while the South West and South West have the lowest levels.
  • A young person in Cambridge (the Local Authority with the lowest claimant rate) is over seven times less likely to be claiming benefits than a young person in Blackpool (the highest).

Social mobility cold and hot spots are listed below. The ten local authority areas with the highest youth unemployment claimant count are Blackpool, Thanet, Burnley, Oldham, Hartlepool, Tendring, Wolverhampton, Bradford, South Tyneside, Croydon.

Recognising that youth unemployment is hitting disproportionately across the country, the Department for Opportunities – the new campaign arm of the Social Mobility Foundation – is bringing together a coalition of employers who are committed to doing all they can to help young people by creating and extending opportunities in hard hit areas.  

Ahead of the launch a number of employers have already pledged their support including Aviva, bp, Baker McKenzie, Bloomberg, Capital One, JLL and PwC. Together they employ over 61,000 people. These employers have retained their commitment to young people throughout the crisis by, for example, offering online work experience or continuing to recruit.

The Department for Opportunities is calling on the government to target the support it has announced to help young people in the hardest hit areas. It is also urging government to immediately create a National Database of Opportunities so young people can see what opportunities are available in their local area or online via virtual placements. This will mean everything – from job opportunities to apprenticeships, kickstarter jobs to virtual work experience – is clearly visible in one place.

Calling for a joint effort not just from government but also employers, Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Foundation said:

Young people in ‘left behind’ parts of our country are already suffering disproportionately high unemployment. If past recessions are anything to go by ‘Generation Covid’ is at risk of being the biggest losers from the coming recession. Without urgent action social mobility will be hit and regional inequalities will widen. Avoiding a jobs catastrophe for this generation of young people, especially those in areas which were struggling before the crisis, requires urgent action by employers and government.

Government can help by targeting its employment and training support programmes on social mobility coldspots. It should set to work immediately to create a National Database of Opportunities so young people can see how to access opportunities.

Some businesses are already showing what can be done by extending support to young people. We are delighted a number of major employers have already backed our call and invite others to join a national coalition to create new opportunities for young people”

Employers who sign up to the coalition are committed to playing their part in creating opportunities for young people as this economic crisis deepens – be it through virtual mentoring or internships to donating laptops and computers to those most in need. Six employers have signed up to the coalition and are demonstrating their commitment to young people in a variety of ways. 

Kevin Ellis, PwC UK Chairman and Senior Partner, said;

“Employers can make a huge difference to opportunities for young people, and never has there been a greater need to help than now. That’s why PwC is delighted to join this coalition of employers supporting targeted interventions where the help is needed most. Supporting skills and social mobility is not just about those who come to work with us; it’s about working together as a coalition to reach a much wider group to help them progress as far as their talent and determination take them.”

Rupert MacInnes, VP External Affairs, Capital One UK, commented

“Capital One UK is delighted to be a founder member of the Social Mobility Foundation’s coalition of employers. We along with other companies can play a vital role in developing skills and confidence in young people.  We have a number of programmes that specifically aim to address social mobility issues in our local communities, including delivering employability workshops and mentoring programmes.”     



  1. The Department for Opportunities is the campaign arm of the Social Mobility Foundation which helps thousands of disadvantaged young people each year access university and professional careers.
  2. A short film launching this campaign can be viewed here
  3. Social mobility rankings come from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s Social Mobility Index (gov.uk, 16 June 2016, link)

Top 10

Bottom 10




Tower Hamlets



Kensington and Chelsea



Hammersmith and Fulham










West Somerset

On the research

  • 18-24 claimant count rose by around 30,000 this last quarter, raises the claimant count in that age group to 540,000. More here.

  • All claimant count figures for nations, regions, local authorities and constituencies come from NOMIS’ claimant count by sex and age statistics (NOMIS, 16 July 2020, link)

  • For English local authorities, social mobility ranks and number of claimants aged 18-24 are correlated with a correlation coefficient of 0.20. This means that the better the social mobility ranking of a local authority, the fewer claimants it has on average. The t-statistic is 3.58. Since 3.58>1.96, the correlation is statistically significant at the 5% confidence level.

  • In calculating the “Red Wall” claimant count percentage, we took the mean claimant count % of 44 seats that have been designated as former red wall seats. The mean of these 44 seats was a claimant count proportion of 11.8%.

  • In comparing the ten best and ten worst English local authorities for social mobility, the mean claimant count % for each set of ten was taken and the two means compared to one another. The top ten local authorities had a mean claimant proportion of 8.56%, while the bottom ten had a mean claimant proportion of 11.32%.

  • A full spreadsheet of all the figures used in these calculations can be found here.

About the Employer coalition: Members of the coalition are committed to at least one of these three broad principles: 

  • Creating opportunities for young people – be that through online mentoring or virtual work experience, apprenticeships, traineeships, ‘kickstarterjobs or graduate recruitment. 

  • Supporting young people to work from home – through donating laptops, computers or offering other practical support to young people in need. 

  • Going the extra mile for the areas most in need of support – working with the Department for Opportunities to identify how you can expand opportunities in these areas.