by Kevin Meagher
Everyone in British politics is interested in ending world hunger. Everyone is interested in saving the environment. And everyone, it seems, is interested in improving social mobility.
Barely a week goes by without someone sounding off about its importance. Ed Miliband makes weighty speeches about it. So does Nick Clegg. Michael Gove. David Cameron. Et cetera, et cetera.
But being interested in something is not the same as not being serious about it. Simply wanting to narrow the gap between the circumstances of someone’s birth and what they subsequently get to make of their life is hopelessly, pathetically, inadequate.
Especially when the scale of the problem is so daunting. Labour grandee Alan Milburn, the Chair of the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, describes social mobility as “the new holy grail of public policy”.
In a speech to the Resolution Foundation last week, he set out the dizzying scale of the challenge facing his commission:
“We conclude that the statutory goal of ending child poverty by 2020 will in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin, perhaps by as many as 3 million children. We conclude too that the economic recovery…is unlikely to halt the trend of the last decade, where the top part of society prospers and the bottom part stagnates. If that happens social inequality will widen and the rungs of the social ladder will grow further apart. Poverty will rise. At best, mobility will stall. At worst, it will reverse.”
Unfortunately, no-one – absolutely no-one – in British politics is really serious about backing-up their pious invocations with practical action. An intermittent harrumph of indignation is followed well, by, nothing.