Social Mobility – England’s Smoke & Mirrors (1)

Social Mobility – Smoke & Mirrors (Part 1)

(c) Unsplash – photo used with permission

This blogpost is about how the loudly trumpeted phrase ‘if you work hard at school you’ll get on’; a phrase long on noise, but short on reality … because you won’t, ‘get on,’ that is. Social Mobility is ‘all smoke & mirrors’.

OK, some lucky Jane’s and Johns will get on. However, not in the way they thought. And we’ll look at the evidence for that in due course.

Why say that? Well, for one thing, it isn’t me that’s saying it; at least not on my own, I’m one voice among many. The government’s own Social Mobility Commission, explores (regularly) and publishes reports, on the ‘State of the Nation’ in summary and complete formats. The latest report is 2018 – 19.

Accessed recently (13/09/2019), the summary report I saw begins with these words:- “Inequality is still deeply entrenched in Britain: there is a persistent gap in early literacy; the attainment gap at the end of secondary school has hardly shifted since 2014 and the better off (sic) are nearly 80% more likely to end up in a professional job than those from a working-class background. Our sixth State of the Nation report, and the first since our 12 new commissioners were appointed last year, lays bare the stark fact that social mobility has stagnated over the last four years at virtually all stages from birth to work […]” (Social Mobility Commission, 2019 p2).

No Fake News Here:

I did explain – on my About Page – that nothing in my blogs is made up; my blog is my interpretation of the researched and studied and read about facts. So nothing changes in terms of intellectual honesty, except the topic I’m going to write about and that’s going to constantly change.

Much of what gets my attention changes daily, hourly, weekly. And all of what I cite is listed at the end for you, dear reader, to follow up and check for yourself. No ‘fake news’ here, I assure you.

Why do I do this? Good question, it’s simply so that there is a counter, one small voice, that may help raise other voices, against the garbage we get fed by those in power, and which seems to have gotten worse since David Cameron organised that damned referendum in 2016 leading to the epic foul-up known as Brexit.

unsplash photo – used with permission (c) joe beck

So, the fact that we have these imaginary bridges that can lead some in  society from a poorer to a better life is true – but no-one seems to add the rider that this improvement is only for ‘the few’.

For The Many, Not the Few; or not?

Remember the mantra of the Conservative party is ‘for the many, not just the few’? And doubtless you believed that – but don’t worry,  you weren’t alone. Many, many people believed it. Sadly though, that did turn out to be ‘fake news’ as far as the many were concerned. However, all is not lost.

It appears, again from the Report’s Summary, that Scotland and Wales are “[…] slightly more socially mobile than Great Britain overall […]”(ibid p4). It is possible to suggest a number of reasons why this is, not least of which is that the neoliberal taint that has fouled Britain’s educational pool has less of a hold on our comrades in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales than exists in England. Their educational policies seem less about increasing economic growth or wealth (for whom?); than they are about helping children develop skills they might need in living a full and happy life in the future.

Why Social Mobility matters-if it does?

“[…} Class has united and divided Britain since the Industrial Revolution. United, because class is widely accepted as a quintessentially British fact of life, a heritage and language that we can all share. Divided, because class is no romantic tradition or amusing idiosyncrasy, but is produced by exploitation in a country where a tiny elite has possessed the majority of the wealth […]”(Todd, S. 2014, Kindle Ed).

In a way I guess this quote is saying that – in a strange way, social class is a fact of life, live with it. Which is a lousy message to have to put up with. Yet we bow and curtsy and, although we stop short of forelock tugging, we still seem to believe that the folk in places like Downton Abbey are there by something other than complete chance. To be wealthy by virtue of birth rather than effort, seems an odd thing for the general population to be pleased with. Yet, some of us seem to be …

so, what happens to get in the way then?

Well, I think what gets in the way, then is?… the simple fact that whilst the UK is recorded as the world’s fifth largest economy, ‘[…]14 million people live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one […]’ ( Social Metrics Commission 2018; Fitzpatrick, S and Bramley, G et al 2018, and Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2017-18 & 2021-22 ALL in Alston, P, 2018 p1)

Simply put, if you’re hungry, thirsty, poorly housed, homeless, cold, dirty, in poor health and despondent,  you are unlikely to be worried about doing your homework.

To be continued:

Thank you for reading.

The Open Mind Blog



1.Fitzpatrick, S and Bramley, G (Eds) et al “Destitution in the UK 2018” pp 2 – 3 in Alston, P “Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom: Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Nov 2018”

2. Institute for Fiscal Studies “Living Standards, poverty and inequality in the UK:2017 – 18 to 2012-22 Nov 2, 2017 in Alston, P “Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom: Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Nov 2018”

3. Social Metrics Commission “A New Measure of poverty for the UK,” Sept 2018 p97 in Alston, P “Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom: Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Nov 2018”

4.Social Mobility Commission “State of the Nation 2018-2019”

5.Todd, Selina “The Rise and Fall of the Working Class” (2014, Kindle Ed, Introduction)