Social mobility is now stagnant in the UK

This is the first state of the nation report since all twelve commissioners resigned at the end of 2017

A new ‘State of the Nation’ report from the government’s social mobility commission has shown class privilege has become even more embedded.

This is the first state of the nation report since all twelve commissioners resigned at the end of 2017. The mass resignation was in protest at government policies that they felt prevented progress towards a fairer Britain and the commissioners criticised Theresa May’s government for focussing too much on Brexit and for the lack of action on social issues. Dame Martina Milburn, the new chair of the social mobility commission presented the report, explaining it reveals how social mobility has stagnated at almost every life stage over the last four years.

Children with parents in a professional occupation such as law or medicine are 80% more likely to end up in a similar career. This is due in part to their connections and often better educational qualifications. Those from a working class background that do successfully enter a professional occupation will earn 17% less on average than privileged colleagues.

There are a number of suggestions for areas that can be improved to help redress the balance, including adult education provision. The education secretary, Damian Hinds, welcomed suggestions and expressed a desire to change the lives of the disadvantaged.

Suggestions around childcare and education are prevalent in the 2019 report. It recommends expanding the provision of free childcare in England for disadvantaged families. The research highlighted the significant numbers of children’s centres that have closed and noted with disappointment how 45% of childcare workers are on tax credits or benefits.

Education funding was noted to have fallen by 12% for the 16-19 age group since 2012, leaving it 8% lower than for secondary schools. Disadvantaged students are being adversely affected by the resulting cuts in student support and teaching. Poor pupils in schools receive additional funding and the commission suggested this should be expanded to include students aged 16-19 who continue into further and higher education.

A further education recommendation was to follow the current pupil premium in English schools with a new student premium, which would focus on raising educational achievements amongst disadvantaged pupils.

Outside of education, one significant proposal from the commission was for the government to pay its employees and contract staff (including catering and cleaning staff) the voluntary living wage.

When she entered Downing Street in 2016, Theresa May pledged to tackle social inequality, but this does not appear to have happened. The current shifts in politics and economics mean productivity is vital and maximising the abilities of all is essential. Dame Martina has concerns that far from remaining stagnant, the situation could actually worsen, so steps must be taken. The chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes the report confirms what has been seen for a while, that people are trapped with low incomes and are not able to improve their own lives. There needs to be significant investment to take steps to resolve these issues and create a more inclusive society and economy.

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