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UK/ Why We Need a 'Burkean' Approach to Social Mobility

With social mobility in the UK remaining at the level it was in 1970, Patricia Kaszynska calls for a new 'collective' perspective to the problem of intergenerational disadvantage

Education and social mobility Education and social mobility

The Cabinet Office published today (May 30, ed.) a Progress Report on Fair Access to Professional Careers which investigates the opportunities available to individuals from different backgrounds to enter professional careers.

The conclusion of this research authored by Alan Milburn, the Government's independent reviewer on social mobility, is that “without further and faster action on the part of the professions, government and others, Britain risks squandering the social mobility dividend that the growth in professional employment offers our country”. In other words, in spite of the increase in the number of professional jobs available, careers in politics, medicine, the law and journalism remain “solidly and socially elitist”.

While it is true that access to professions such as law, journalism and medicine must be widened, and therefore more action should be taken to loosen the grip of the privately educated on the labour market (for instance, of the country's top journalists, 54% were privately educated with one third graduating from Oxbridge) - it is important to recognise that the life prospects of many children are already determined by the time they turn 3.

Indeed, according to a recent interim report published yesterday (May 29, ed.) by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, future 'destiny' is stamped onto children at a very early age and for 50% of them, determined by parental circumstances (in Denmark this figure stands at 15%). Hence, while a critical approach to the recruitment into professional careers is needed, if social mobility is to become more than a ‘pipe dream’, it has to be a part of a more consolidated, holistic and ground breaking effort.

With social mobility in the UK remaining at the level it was for those born in 1970, and the inequality gap haemorrhaging the aspirations of those at the bottom, a radical rethinking of public policy is needed. In fact, one could go even further and suggest that in order to address the problems of intergenerational deprivation and institutional disadvantage that compounds the lack of opportunities for too many children and young people in the UK, a shift of perspective is needed.

Whereas many of the past policy solutions designed to tackle these problems were focused on individuals, new set of measures has to operate on the level of groups and communities as well as individuals.