By Dr Dyfan Powell, Wavehill
In July 2020 the Social Mobility Commission and the Institute for Employment Studies published their report, ‘Moving out to move on: Understanding the link between migration, disadvantage and social mobility’. The aim of the study was to try and understand why people were leaving deprived areas and the impact of those outward migrations on the communities they left. Much data is presented in the report and there is an interesting discussion relevant to the Arfor area and the challenges it faces. Importantly, this is one of the first reports that explores data collected during the COVID-19 crisis and analyses the impact of the crisis on outward migration. This is a summary which may be of interest to those seeking to understand and address the impact of out-migration on rural areas of Wales.
The report reflects a picture of outward migration common to the Arfor area. The data suggests that emigrants are much more likely to move in their early 20s and hold a degree or higher level qualification. In addition, women are more likely to move than men – emigration levels are 16% higher for women.
The work also enriches our understanding of the type of people who move, noting that individuals from a higher socio-economic background are the most mobile. However, overall, the flow of outward migration tends to go from areas with similar levels of deprivation i.e. individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds move to other deprived areas, while individuals from prosperous backgrounds tend to move to prosperous areas.
Benefit of emigration
Migrants are slightly more likely to find a job and to have a higher management job and on average receive a higher salary than those who stay in their area. However, the differences between migrants from disadvantaged backgrounds are more significant than those from affluent backgrounds i.e. there is more economic benefit to moving from a deprived area.
Reasons for emigration
Although there are economic benefits for moving – this is not the only reason for moving. The benefits that emigrants mention relate to a range of factors, such as improved health care, better education, better and affordable public transport as well as social activities that tend to be more common and attractive in urban areas. These are factors relating to standard of living, not economic factors. Indeed, emigrants recognise that the cost of living is higher after moving to cities, and is one of the negative consequences of emigration. But it is a price that these migrants think is worth paying, given the wider benefits.
The report also proposes that people do not stay in their areas for economic reasons. The viability of social relations and cultural, personal and family reasons are influential factors. This is important given that the main policy response to outward migration in rural areas of Wales is to focus on economic and employment factors – not the factors that cause people to choose to stay.
The report is relatively unique, as it presents data collected during the COVID-19 period. It assumes that the impact of COVID-19 on employment and on economic activity will affect migration patterns for a long time. Young students could defer their studies and delay making risky decisions, such as moving to a new area in search of a job. Meanwhile, the number of people relying on state aid through job support schemes have increased significantly, and also run the risk of moving away from family and social support networks that have been vital during the period of the crisis.
The other and “positive” side of the disease in the meantime is that workforces and employers have become more familiar with remote working arrangements, and have changed views on its benefits. A more positive approach to working from home could reduce the need for migration or commuting.
In this regard, a fall in the numbers emigrating from the Arfor area can be expected.
The data and analysis presented is highly relevant to the Arfor area, and those who see the loss of young people as the main linguistic, as well as economic, weakness of the area.
The report concludes with a range of policy recommendations. As expected, there is an emphasis on improving digital infrastructure and skills, transport connectivity and good quality housing; three ingredients that enable places to attract new people and retain others. But here are three others that break slightly different ground from the usual calls for more public spending and infrastructure improvements:
Universities: The report recommends that universities and colleges should work together to ensure that local and specific areas have comprehensive and flexible education pathways for school leavers and adults. The Arfor area is unique in that the four rural authorities are home to four universities. The report proposes that these universities can play a greater role in the economic development of the areas.
Developing the identity of the area: The authors of the report propose that the aim should be to strengthen the cultural sense of area identity in each local community. The introduction of a strong identity can attract individuals to an area and keep individuals there.
Diverse workforces: Employers should think about recruiting and establishing progression routes beyond their traditional geographical headquarters, and try to develop flexible working arrangements that enable remote working. It can be argued that public bodies and authorities have a role in leading and supporting this.
 The qualitative research from focus groups proposes that trying to find jobs with flexible working hours is important, often linked to affordable childcare facilities.
 Data proposes, for example, that 71.7% of migrants secure a higher management job, but that only 28.1% of those staying in their area secure such a job. The monthly wages of out-migrants are 33% higher than those who do not move.
 Indeed, the main economic reason for moving is to find a job only, not to secure a better job or higher pay. However, the report also presents data that offer a range of wider reasons for emigration.