Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Unfortunately, no-one in British politics is serious about social mobility

20/11/2013, 07:00:20 AM

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.


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Time to make the old school tie work for the majority

02/07/2012, 01:43:47 PM

by Hazel Blears

Last week I co-sponsored a debate in Westminster Hall on the topic of social mobility. For those not familiar, Westminster Hall is the “parallel chamber” that the last Labour Government created in 1999 to extend the provision for debate in Parliament, and to give MPs opportunities to discuss a wider range of topics.

Social mobility, as Damian Hinds MP – chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on social mobility – rightly noted in his speech, can mean entirely different things to different people, and for that reason is often not easily quantified. However it is clear from the statistics that do exist that the United Kingdom is lagging behind other OECD counties when it comes to social mobility – in short, people from poorer backgrounds do not have the same opportunities to succeed.

This is a problem that is increasingly on the political agenda, and indeed has not been properly addressed by any government. Part of the reason for this failure is that too often politicians are afraid of innovative projects where success cannot be directly linked to the funding allocated. But at times when money is limited, it is crucial that politicians and decision makers think outside the box.

When in government, I was struck when told that seven out of ten people get their next job through somebody they know. Networks and contacts can offer people far more hope of employment than job centres, which means that there needs to be a far greater focus in helping people develop relationships and expand their contact books.


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Englishness? Whimsy and Billy Bragg songs. Look local instead

14/06/2012, 02:39:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like the inhabitants of Laputa who were embarked on the task of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers in Gulliver’s Travels, picking over the mysteries of Englishness in search of an intelligible definition is a similarly laborious – and quite pointless – endeavour.

Yet it remains a vogueish pursuit. Last week Ed Miliband made a long speech on the subject, laying heavy emphasis on his own idiosyncratic background as the son of Jewish immigrant parents who was born and grew up in different places, engendering multiple identities and loyalties (“a Leeds supporter, from North London”).

Rather than nailing a coherent version of Englishness, however, the speech served to show how variegated the term is.

Our island story is nothing of the sort. We are many tribes and have many, often conflicting accounts. We should call off the search for an agreed, top-down national narrative.

Princes and paupers, Cornish and cockney; there is little practical mortar unifying a sense of Englishness in either our geography or class. A working class Brummie has traditionally had more in common with a working-class Glaswegian than he has with an Englishman from a different social class.


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Opening doors and breaking barriers, or smoke and mirrors

14/05/2011, 12:00:22 PM

by Hugh Goulbourne

Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy – Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers has attracted much attention from the media. But are the proposals anything more than just a way of diverting attention from this government’s clumsy budget cuts which have left millions of people, especially those aged 16-25, without access to vital traineeships and work experience opportunities?

The overarching principle set out in Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers is a sound one, namely that “no one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by the circumstances of their birth” and instead “what ought to count is how hard you work and the skills and talents you possess, not the school you went to or the jobs your parents did”. Indeed it is the very principle that all of us in the Labour party sign up for when we join.

Under New Labour, a series of interventions were made to help target internships and apprenticeships at those from unprivileged backgrounds. Perhaps the most successful of those programmes was the future jobs fund (FJF). The FJF programme provides a grant to charities, social enterprises and local government to offer a paid contract of employment to an individual aged 18 – 24 who has been out of employment for six months – in effect a paid internship.

The experience of the FJF demonstrates the importance of paid internships in opening up vital work experience to those without existing financial support. In West Yorkshire, a consortium of not for profit arts organisations have used the final slice of FJF funding to provide an internship to a local arts graduate, who, despite a good degree and several voluntary positions, has not been able to find the requisite workplace experience to be able to secure full-time employment. All over the country, the programme has been a success, with well over 50% of those who have joined the FJF scheme ceasing to claim job seekers allowance and entering into paid employment seven months after they started the programme.

FJF was axed in April, together with a number of other Labour programmes as part of the government’s spending cuts. It will be replaced by a new code for government internships, a new business compact for fairer, more open internship and work experience programmes and the new work programme.

The first limb of Clegg’s proposals – the reform of government internships and the removal of barriers to internships within the professions and corporate organisations – has already attracted widespread support from those within the Labour party. These are certainly sectors of the economy where significant investment should be directed towards developing a new generation of workers from a range of backgrounds. (more…)

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Clegg’s phoney war on social immobility

23/04/2011, 12:30:27 PM

by Susanna Bellino

David Cameron’s comments a few weeks ago about Oxford university’s lack of black students might have annoyed its dons and PR team but he made a valid point. Granted he skewed the statistics but the truth remains that only 27 black undergraduates – approximately 1% – made its undergraduate intake that year.

The results of a freedom of information request by David Lammy MP revealed, among other startling facts, that Merton College, Oxford, had not admitted a single black student for five years. And although it pains me to say it, my own alma mater doesn’t fair much better – despite its more liberal reputation, white students were more likely to be successful than black applicants at every Cambridge college except one.

These figures are in stark contrast to Oxbridge’s American counterpart, Harvard, where 11% of students were black. Affirmative action no doubt plays a large part in this but Oxbridge does run its own access programmes although – if rumours are to be believed – aiming these schemes at a comprehensive school in Hackney might better achieve social mobility than running them at Marlborough College.

For once, we can’t blame the coalition for something. Oxbridge’s unrepresentative undergraduate intake and the general trend of the lack of upward social mobility in the UK has long been an issue. When I went up to Cambridge in 2007, 57% of the student body were state school educated – a decent enough figure perhaps but we need to consider that in 1997, 55% of the student body were state school educated – hardly an improvement. (more…)

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Social Mobility – the Coalition’s great leap back

16/04/2011, 04:32:17 PM

by Dan Johnson

The question ‘how many black people go to Oxford?’ sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke, unfortunately that joke is our education system and no-one is laughing.

Oxford isn’t racist, I don’t think it’s sexist, I don’t think it still has the same attitude to class that many perceive it to have. The problem isn’t the universities, it’s the government. Universities can only accept people who get the grades, and the grades of everyone in state schools depends on the funding going in to the schools, the teachers, the headteacher and their parents at home.

I should declare an interest; I’m a governor at both a further education college and an academy in my hometown of Thornaby, they are both great institutions that do a great job with the tools they are given. Unfortunately there are going to be fewer tools in future.

SureStart closures will affect those who can’t afford anywhere else, and will also remove valuable training opportunities from young mothers.

EMA has been removed from those whose family earns above the free school meal threshold (£16,190), so if you have two working parents who are both on the minimum wage you won’t get a penny, how’s that for targeting? It now emerges that the new rate won’t be £38 a week: it’ll be £30; it seems Nick Clegg thought that state schools were like private schools and only have lessons for 31 weeks of the year.

The ‘pupil premium’ will take money away from poor pupils in poor areas and give it to poor pupils in well-off areas, and that’s before you factor in an increase in the number of pupils.

The Tory answer to social mobility is to bring back grammar schools. We can see first-hand how grammar schools work, just look to Northern Ireland. The most able pupils do marginally better but the least able to significantly worse. Thankfully the government is resisting the call, but it is still creating a two-tier state system with the introduction of free schools and the roll-out of academy status to top-performing schools.

We need a well-balanced work force in the future and that requires better schools and a better start in life for many children. I don’t really care that Nick Clegg had an internship with a Finnish bank (he may need the contacts in 2015), what I care about is the scorched earth policy this government is leaving to the next generation.

Dan Johnson is the Labour party candidate in Stainsby Hill, Thornaby in the local elections this year.

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Social mobility – judge the government by its actions not its words

05/04/2011, 02:30:43 PM

by Richard Watts

Whoever decided that the government’s social mobility strategy should be published in the week that the budget cuts hit has a very twisted sense of humour.

Children and young people will be the ones hit hardest by the cumulative effect of the cuts announced over the last 9 months, which start to be implemented from Monday. While for many comfortably off people the cuts will, at worst, cause some inconvenience, for many young people they will be truly life changing.

Only a true cynic would suggest that Nick Clegg is not genuine in his desire for Britain to be a more meritocratic country. However, his Faustian deal to reduce the deficit with unnecessary haste will ensure that the country he leaves behind will surely be less “socially mobile” than that he inherited.

There is no doubt that social mobility slowed down towards the end of the twentieth century. The definitive study by the centre for economic performance concluded:

“On average, the life chances of a child born into a poor household in 1970 were worse than those of a child born into a similar household in 1958. In particular, we showed that the earnings of individuals born in 1970 were more strongly related to the income of their parents than those of the earlier cohort”. (more…)

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34 years today since his death: Tony Crosland’s challenge to Ed Miliband

19/02/2011, 04:00:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

FOR an intellectual he sure had a potty mouth. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland”.

So said Anthony Crosland, Labour’s greatest education secretary, who was very nearly as good as his word. He lit the touchpaper for the comprehensive revolution in the 1960s, consigning the vile eleven-plus exam to the scrapheap, opening the way for bright kids from ordinary backgrounds to get a rounded schooling.

Until then, three quarters of children who “failed” the eleven-plus were shuffled off to a secondary modern, on the basis of a single examination, so they could spend the next fifty years “working with their hands” like the epsilons in Brave New World.

Today marks the 34th anniversary of Crosland’s untimely death at the age of 59, depriving James Callaghan of a foreign secretary, but robbing Labour of a sane and principled voice who may just have helped the party avoid the intellectual atrophy of the late 1970s and the descent into lunacy of the early 1980s. (more…)

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Real social mobility means reclaiming ambition, says Stella Creasy

24/08/2010, 09:00:24 AM

Unlike many in the current Government, Labour’s concern for social mobility lies in more than wanting everyone to take Oxbridge entrance exams. We know that while talent is distributed widely throughout our society, the opportunity to realise it is not. This means that privilege determines life chances rather than ability and consequently raw potential too often goes to waste. We seek to advance social mobility because when people are held back by dint of birth we all miss out on the contribution they could make to our country.

In a nation where social division is inked into our educational,  economic and cultural fabric, helping everyone reach their promise is the purpose of Labour in power. It is an ambition we know we still have much to do to realise. As the TUC highlights, half of a child’s future earning potential in the UK was determined at birth, compared with 20% in other countries such as Canada, Australia or Denmark. Under the previous government, action taken meant the trends underpinning this started to decline, showing that the state can and does make a difference to life chances if it chooses. However, the intergenerational grip of privilege on prosperity is still hard to break. (more…)

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Milburn vs. Milburn: Round III

16/08/2010, 01:15:50 PM

In round three, Mark Watson fires a volley for the greater good and Paul Smith hits straight back with a large helping of  ego and delusion.

The best thing for the country is what’s required

The only thing you can be sure of in Westminster is that things are never going to be quite the same again. The Lib Dems are in power but sharing with Conservatives. Prescott is in the House of Lords, but following Frank Field and John Hutton’s acceptance of advisory positions to the current incumbents comes the completion of the triumvirate of ex-Labour ministers working in the current administration, with the addition of former cabinet minister Alan Milburn as social mobility tsar. 

Alan Milburn knows his social mobility bag; he has first hand experience. Gordon Brown thought so much of this arch-Blairites position that he appointed him to advise his government on the subject, although the subsequent binning of his proposals in file 13 confirmed to many the view that this appointment was simply a concession to the Blair wing of the party. 

Whilst criticising this appointment as a sell-out, amongst other things, many Labour figures are approaching the subject from a sectarian position and missing the point. It seems as though the underlying narrative of the detractors is that the well-being of the country comes second to the lines in the party sand.  Labour only want social mobility sorting if they are the ones to sort it out – so why didn’t we?  There is no doubt that Milburn is one of the premier social mobility minds, so why shouldn’t the country benefit from what he has to say, regardless of his allegiance.


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