The administrative county of Somerset is in the South West of England. It borders North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west.
It is comprised of four former district authority areas: Mendip, South Somerset, Sedgemoor and Somerset West and Taunton.
Somerset is within the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area, along with 15 other local authorities and two national parks.
In 2021, Somerset’s total population was 573,119; an increase of 9,268 (1.6%) since the previous year. Between 2021 and 2042, Somerset’s population is expected to grow by 10.4%, to a total of 59,839. Population growth in Somerset is largely accounted for by inward migration from elsewhere in the UK.
Somerset’s population is ageing and at a faster rate than is the case nationally. In 2021, 24.9% of Somerset’s population was aged over 65 years, up from 21.2% in 2011. Projections suggest that by 2036 just over a third of the population in Somerset will be 65 or over. Meanwhile, Somerset’s working age population is set to decrease.
Somerset is distinctively rural and relies heavily on its market towns for employment and services. According to ONS census data from the 2011, 48.2% of Somerset’s population live in rural areas, making it one of the ten most rural authorities in England.
In 2021, Somerset’s economy was worth almost £12.4bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) terms. Somerset’s economy saw a drop during 2020, average annual economic growth over this period has been roughly 2.6%.
In 2021, labour productivity in Somerset was £30.86 (p/hr). This is slightly lower than the average for the South West area of £34.03 (p/hr), but notably lower than the national average of £37.77 (p/hr).
To an even greater extent than is the case nationally, Somerset is a predominantly small business economy, both in terms of employee numbers and business turnover. In 2019, 99.73% of businesses in Somerset employed fewer than 250 employees, with 89.78% of those employing fewer than 10 people. Meanwhile, 85.2% had a turnover less than £500,000, 72% had a turnover less than £200,000, and 18.6% had a turnover less than £50,000.
Between 2015 and 2019, the rate of growth in the number of businesses in Somerset increased by 3.8%, a slower rate than was the case nationally (11%). If we exclude agriculture and public administration from the picture then the difference in growth rates between Somerset, regional and national averages is similar. That said, business survival rates are notably higher in Somerset than they are nationally, especially beyond their first year of doing business.
Somerset performs comparatively well on figures pertaining to its workforce, with higher levels of employment (77.8%) and lower levels of unemployment (3.1%) and economic inactivity (19.8%) than is typically found nationally.
Unemployment is lower for females than males in Somerset recently where historically unemployment was significantly higher for females, whereas at the national level the unemployment rate is broadly similar for both sexes. Meanwhile, economic inactivity is only higher for females than males in Somerset a similar pattern nationally.
At £25,303, median annual full-time earnings in Somerset are lower than they are both regionally and nationally, and if we include part-time work, of which there is a greater prevalence in Somerset, then the disparity is greater yet. There is also a significant difference between earnings for males and females in Somerset, especially for full-time work, similar to regionally and nationally.
The 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) reveals Somerset to be 92nd out of 151 top-tier local authority areas in terms of deprivation, where 1 is the most deprived and 151 is the least deprived. Of the various components of the IMD, Somerset scores worst (57th out of 151) on barriers to housing and services and best on crime (116th out of 151). Across Somerset there are 9 LSOAs, or neighbourhoods, within the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in England and 29 within the most deprived 20%.
Data for Dec 2021 shows that Somerset performs below the national average on the qualification levels of its residents, except for other qualifications. Somerset has a lower proportion of the population without qualifications compared to nationally.
The majority of young people succeed in education and make a positive transition to adult life and the world of work, but a small proportion do not and become NEET (not in education, employment or training). In Somerset roughly 9.02% of 16–18-year-olds are thought to be NEET.