The coalition will not improve social mobilityby Paul Johnson / October 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
“The true test of fairness is the distribution of opportunities,” said Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, in April. “That is why improving social mobility is the principal goal of the coalition government’s policy.”
It is an appealing call to arms. The more “mobile” our society, the less our birth matters; the more our own efforts and abilities shape where we end up. Unfortunately, the government is unlikely to achieve its goal.
Social mobility is shamefully low in Britain, compared to Europe. This shows itself early—in different levels of school readiness, primary school achievement and higher education. It shows itself, too, in the close relationship between our earnings and those of our parents. As Jo Blanden at the University of Surrey has demonstrated, the impact of parental income is over 1.5 times greater in Britain than in Germany, Sweden, Australia and Canada. Whether measured by exam results or earnings, the children of the richest 10 per cent do best, followed by children of the next 10 per cent and so on down to the poorest. The very pervasiveness of the problem shows just how difficult change will be.