The “Dick Whittington” dream of moving to London to seek a fortune is becoming increasingly unobtainable for those from poorer background, according to research, with costs keeping young people out of the capital.
Research by education charity the Sutton Trust found that despite the growth of the middle classes, two-thirds of the most socially mobile people had never moved far from their home towns.
It found those from working class backgrounds who had carved out well-paid careers had done so close to home, often in sectors like law, medicine and academia.
Moving to London to chase the highest paying jobs was increasingly only available to those from a privileged background, the researchers said.
The study, called Elites in the UK: Pulling Away? – conducted by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science – found schemes such as unpaid internships were a major barrier to making the move.
Those born in London, regardless of background, were also primarily those who benefited from the economic opportunities the capital had to offer.
The report was based on analysis of data from the Office for National Longitudinal Study to build up a picture of the social mobility of people born in the 1970s.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Research by the London School of Economics shows that since the 1980s London has cemented its position as the epicentre of the elites.
“The Dick Whittington vision of moving to the capital to move up in the world is largely a myth.
“Those that benefit most from opportunities in London were either born there or are the economically privileged from other parts of the country.
“London is essentially off-limits to ambitious people from poorer backgrounds who grow up outside the capital.
“That means that boosting London is not going to have much impact on making things fairer for anyone other than those already living there.
“In spite of the dominance of London, over two-thirds of the socially mobile have never made a long-term move.
“It’s crucial that the new Conservative Government implements its policy of creating more opportunities across the country so that talented people can benefit from them wherever they live.”
To improve social mobility, the Sutton Trust is calling for all internships of more than four weeks to be paid at least the minimum wage.
It recommended a sharp increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships across the country as well as fairer access to top schools and universities to students of all backgrounds.
The Sutton Trust’s report comes after research highlighted the perceived gap in opportunities in different regions and age groups.
The study by the Social Mobility Commission found young people to be the most pessimistic.
Only a third of 18 to 24-year-olds said they thought everyone in Britain today had a fair chance, compared with almost half of those 65 and over.
Only a third of those in the North East felt they had good prospects in their area, compared with 74% in the South East.
On the campaign trail ahead of last month’s general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “level up” the UK’s regions through better infrastructure and faster broadband.