Discussion A Northern Soul – Film Screening

by Francesca Fitzgerald _______29th May 2019

Last week we held a film screening and panel discussion of A Northern Soul, hosted by KPMG in collaboration with their Board Leadership Centre. The documentary has been described as “a personal cry for social mobility”, but at its heart it reminds us why work on tackling in-work poverty is so vital, and what businesses can do to help.

In case you haven’t seen A Northern Soul yet (which I highly recommend you do), here’s a quick blurb. The film is set in Hull in 2017, the year it served as UK City of Culture. Sean McAllister, the director, returns to the city to curate the opening of the City of Culture, moving back in with his 90-year-old parents. He meets Steve, a struggling warehouse worker with a dream: the Beats Bus, “a mobile recording studio committed to building confidence and giving young people a voice through music and art workshops”. Over the next year, as the bus becomes a reality, Sean documents the changes brought about both for Steve and for Hull itself. Perhaps the most inspiring part of the film is the real, positive difference that the Beats Bus makes for the children that it reaches. It had and continues to have, a tangible impact on their futures and their education, something so vitally important for social mobility.

Steve’s story is also a case in point for the difference that an employer can have, both positively and negatively, on their employee’s standard of living. Steve was one of the millions of people in the UK who are stuck in jobs with no real progression – and who often need to use payday loans or loans from friends and family to get by. Over the course of the film, Steve is demoted and is forced to declare bankruptcy.

With the recent report of the “systematic immiseration” of a significant part of the UK population from the UN on my mind, Steve’s story really hit home. Whereas one government spokesperson recently claimed that “all the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life”, A Northern Soul offers just one case study to show that employment statistics are not a good indicator of living standards. As Dame Martina said, there are so many others like Steve out there, millions of whom are living in in-work poverty.

But on the flipside, there are plenty of people in business and civil society with both the ways and the means to do something about it. And more importantly still, they really want to help. That much was clear from the evening; walking around and talking to people, everyone was asking the right question: How do we encourage social mobility and help people out of poverty?The answer is collaborative action. As our CEO Norman Pickavance said during the panel discussion, “there is a gap between where the ladder is and where the people are”, but there are simple steps employers can take to close that gap. The Social Mobility Commission recently found that in-work training was more likely to go to those who were already skilled. But with the dramatic transitions of the fourth industrial revolution already underway, companies can only benefit from extending training to their low-skilled workers. That training can facilitate social mobility; it can also foster the kind of employee loyalty that can make a hugely positive impact on any company’s future.


To find out more about our work on tackling in-work poverty visit this page.

To find out more about the film A Northern Soul go here.

For the Beats Bus or to donate go here.

To watch A Northern Soul via BFI Player, here