OPPORTUNITIES for children from low-income families in West Berkshire are among the lowest in the country, with the district being dubbed as a ‘coldspot’ for social mobility.
The damning findings, published in the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report on Tuesday, said that the district falls within the bottom 20 per cent of local authorities.
The leader of West Berkshire Council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, Lee Dillon, said the report would send “shockwaves across the community”.
The commission said that “some of the richest places in England, like West Berkshire, Cotswold and Crawley, deliver worse outcomes for their disadvantaged children than places that are much poorer like Sunderland and Tower Hamlets”.
It added: “Some affluent areas – such as West Berkshire, Cotswold and Crawley – are amongst the worst for offering good education, employment opportunities and affordable housing to their most disadvantaged residents.”
Responding to the report, Mr Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said: “In such an affluent area we should demand better for our children which are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Not only is West Berkshire in the lowest 20 per cent across all measures, when you look at the detailed breakdown it is even worse.”
West Berkshire is also in the bottom 10 per cent in the country – ranked 317th out of 324 local authorities – in terms of life chances for disadvantaged nursery pupils.
The ranking was based on the percentage of nursery providers rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ by Ofsted.
The percentage of children eligible for free school meals achieving a ‘good level of development’ at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage was also considered.
The commission says that social mobility gaps open up at an early age with disadvantaged children and added that youngsters in coldspots could be neglected, especially if they were dispersed across isolated rural schools.
Children from poor families are also 14 percentage points less likely to be school-ready at age five in coldspots than in hotspots, the report found.
The district was also ranked in the bottom 40 per cent on the school age indicator (219th), while its youth rank also lies in the bottom 20 per cent (285th).
Mr Dillon said: “As a dad of three, I know that we all want to give our children the best start in life, but those children that come from a disadvantaged background are being let down in West Berkshire by local and central government despite the best efforts of their parents.
“To see West Berkshire as one of the worst performing areas in the country in preparing disadvantaged children to be ‘school ready’ will send shockwaves through our community.
“What will add to the shock of being one of the worst performers is that the South East is the strongest region in the country in this outcome.
“We have to ask why we are so far behind our regional peers and in the lowest 10 per cent of the country.”
However, the district was among the top 10 per cent for working life and ranked 16th on the hotspot chart.
The rank included average house prices compared with the median salary of employees, the percentage of people in managerial and professional occupations and home ownership
Newbury MP Richard Benyon said that he had not seen the report in detail but was surprised by its findings.
“People are coming to live in West Berkshire because we have good schools,” he said.
“Ninety-five per cent of children in West Berkshire schools are educated in a school rated good or outstanding and I think that’s a highly positive feature about life in West Berkshire.
“Children being bought up in lower income families normally have to travel a very long way from home to find a job but if people want to find a job in West Berkshire they usually can and we have a high level of opportunity that comes from that.
“I’m not entirely sure of the point the report is making.”
Mr Benyon said he would discuss the report with councillors to see what could be done.
Mr Dillon said he would call on the council to put disadvantaged children at the forefront of its actions.