It isn’t just child poverty that limits social mobility; inequality does too

The side of social mobility that no politician will talk about: making rich-but-dim children downwardly mobile.

The side of social mobility that no politician will talk about: making rich-but-dim children downwardly mobile

The government will fail to meet its child poverty reduction targets by 2020, according to a new report from Alan Milburn’s social mobility and child poverty commission.

According to the report, “absolute child poverty increased by 300,000 between 2010-11 and 2012-13” and “independent experts expect child poverty to increase significantly over the next few years”.

This mirrors earlier findings by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which forecast last year that coalition cuts and employment trends would mean that, by 2020, a quarter of all children (3.4 million) will be living in poverty, reversing reductions in child poverty that took place under Labour between 2000 and 2010.

This is incredibly damning. No one in our society ought to live in poverty, but it is particularly callous to inflict it on people – children – who play no part in the employment choices of their parents.

New Labour has been criticised for many things, but its record on child poverty was an impressive one.

Both absolute and relative income poverty fell significantly among children and pensioners under New Labour. This was not simply the result of a booming economy, but was a consequence of spending decisions taken by successive Labour governments. Tony Blair promised to end child poverty within a generation and Gordon Brown pledged ‘to end pensioner poverty in our country’.

These goals were reflected in where government money was spent.

Between 1997-98 and 2010-11, there was an £18 billion annual increase in spending on benefits for families with children and an £11 billion annual increase on benefits for pensioners by 2010-11. As the IFS points out, “…child and pensioner poverty would either have stayed the same or risen…had there not been these big spending increases”.

Due to spending decisions taken by the current government, these impressive gains are now being trashed. That isn’t the opinion of soft-centered charities or left-wing activists, this is the verdict of the government’s social mobility ‘tsar’ Alan Milburn as well as the ultra-orthodox IFS.

Today’s report includes 12 recommendations for the government to adopt so as to increase social mobility over the next decade. One reason the report is so damning is that child poverty, as well as being a moral scandal, has an egregious effect on social mobility.

The reason for this should be obvious: poor children are usually deprived of the things which make school life a little easier, such as books and a place at home to study – not to mention private tutoring. Doors which may easily open for the rest of us are always bolted more tightly when there is a lack of money at home.

So what should we take from the report then? That child poverty is bad? Sure. That it damages social mobility? Definitely.

But there is surely another issue at play here. It isn’t just child poverty that restricts social mobility; inequality does too. As the American author Christopher Hayes puts it in his excellent book The Twilight of the Elites, “over time, a society will grow both more unequal and less mobile as those who ascend its heights create means of preserving and defending their privilege and find ways to pass it on across generations”.

This raises a much bigger problem with the social mobility agenda: the inequality it produces ultimately subverts the mechanisms of mobility. No one in the political establishment today believes in equality of outcome and everyone believes in equality of opportunity; yet genuine equality of opportunity (or meritocracy as it is sometimes known) is undermined by the unequal society that meritocrats revere.

The more unequal a society is the worse social mobility tends to be (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have much better levels of social mobility than Britain and the US) for the simple reason that the advantages of the parents almost always become the advantages of the children.

We can take two things from this: 1) Key to ‘unlocking’ social mobility is less inequality of outcome; 2) we need to start talking about making posh-but-dim children downwardly mobile.

Ed Miliband has touched briefly on the first issue but, like every other politician, will steer clear of the second as if it were a bad smell.

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23 Responses to “It isn’t just child poverty that limits social mobility; inequality does too”

  1. The_Average_Joe_UK

    In my day you could go to a grammar school and make it all the way to being PM or a captain of industry.

    Unfortunately a clucking socialist levelled it all down.

  2. davidhill

    Some 30 years ago political thinking appears to have got together with global corporations to formulate a future economic model that we call globalization. This model had a big flaw in it for 90% of the people. It made the economic model to enrich the super rich indefinitely and … moreimpoverish the vast number of the world’s people. Indeed even after the 2008 financial meltdown that the people had to support with tax money or otherwise the system would have collapsed, the rich got richer and richer. This had/has never happened before as all financial collapses previously before this event had affected everyone and all were impoverished in one way or another. Therefore something changed some three decades ago and where our politicians must have got together with the mighty corporations to devise a new global economic model that enriched the few and kept down the majority (something again that had never really happened before). Therefore is ‘globalization’ the panacea that we all thought it would be? I think not in my humble opinion –

  3. Guest

    Ah, so in your day you could actually have a worse education (streaming is bad for kids, as evidence shows), and you note a time when your neoliberals had less of an impact.

    Then you claim Thatcher and Blair are “clucking socialists”.


  4. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise many on the right will ignore the IFS when it does not agree with their ideology – shows how little fact has to with today’s moral hysteria in politics.

  5. The_Average_Joe_UK

    You are a penis.

  6. NorthBrit

    For obvious reasons, Ed Milliband has no interest in increasing downward mobility for the rich-but-dim.

    Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

  7. leftfootfwd

    Please keep it civilised.

  8. TheLondonBlogger

    This item is so typical of most things that appear

    on the alleged Left

    in Britain

    It is so ‘securely’ remote from the grounds!

    As it is also ‘securely’ free from any contacts with the

    concept of Rights

    (except, in the general space around the piece, the word ‘right’

    does appear but only to denote the Political Right).

    The problem with this kind of detachment from Society and
    the demonstrated detachment from the machinery of
    Social deprivation is not confined o this one piece either.
    Nor is it to be found in the Right-generated headlines
    allegedly dissing the current electoral political acceptability
    of Ed Miliband.

    There is no such thing as “social mobility” in real life.
    The universal, objective concept of freedom, rights must be
    considered rather than the slogan of social mobility which is
    more a charitable one rather than one based on recognition of true
    human rights in the context of the founding values of the United Nations.
    The ‘Left’ has been absent from the UK Political action for decades.
    This is evident in the apologetic stance it takes on most issues.
    Poverty is created as a directly openly and constantly set agenda.
    Poverty cannot be created without active deliberate knowing
    complicity by the so-called Labour local Councils.

    Poverty is also daily created by the lower courts – where most judicial
    stamps are pressed on corruptly conceived Poverty-Creating decrees the approval of the State.
    And the “State”, as the DWP’s currently engaged main spin programme derived from the Murdoch Sun has been showing, is aggressively using the popular prejudices that are
    “independent” manufactured and retailed (and planted in subliminal casual triggers) via the programmes like “Benefit Street” on C4.
    So effective has the SUN-C4-DWP alliance been in damning the victims of Poverty-Creation that Deirdre Kelly the individual (aka “White Dee”) who was used as the “image” to demonise the victims has now begun to be shown as, allegedly and in effect, ‘come to her senses’ and has been strategically placed as a tool to damn her former “friends and co-claimants”.

    The “Left” is absent from this arena.
    Poverty is also ragingly created by the opportunists in “universities” and allied institutions where the idea o Rights is now totally a matter of description!
    When certain “Labour” MPs act as fronters for the “Legal Aid Lawyers” lobbies they do so by claiming that “the vulnerable” and “the disadvantaged” would be “deprived of legal representation if legal aid is cut as proposed” .
    In their role as agents of the legally aided lawyers’ lobby these MPs and their counterparts, typified by certain overly-hyped and careerists in the House of Lords, they add to the disparity and the disadvantage as they heap more untruths against the targets of the Poverty Stamps proceeded via the “lawyered” system.

  9. treborc1

    Well that is useful.

  10. GhostofJimMorrison

    Between 1997-98 and 2010-11, there was an £18 billion annual increase in spending on benefits for families with children

    In other words, state-sponsored poverty. And it is not the responsibility of the state to ensure poorer children have school books and a suitable environment to study; it is the responsibility of the parent. Buying fewer cigarettes and scratch cards might help pay for books. And don’t tell me I’m generalising, I see it every day.

  11. treborc1

    Sadly the fact is under New labour the rich got a hell of a lot richer and the poor well they got poorer not richer or even better off.

    So in the end I do not know what Miliband intentions are but so far it looks like the new ideology will be in 2020 the poor will get paid £8 an hour after twelve years of cuts and poverty they can look for ward to a 25p a year pay rise.

    Not going to make to many rish out to vote.

  12. GhostofJimMorrison

    The universal, objective concept of freedom, rights must be
    considered rather than the slogan of social mobility which is
    more a charitable one rather than one based on recognition of true
    human rights in the context of the founding values of the United Nations.

    Gobbledygook! Plain English, please.

  13. TheLondonBlogger

    That is plain English but needs a proper brain and an ethical Education to enable cognition!

  14. The_Average_Joe_UK

    How about betting shops? Now I wonder why they spring up in less afluent areas?

    Unless you can talk about all the issues you cant have a balanced conversation.

    When the left can do this people might listen. Sadly everything is an attack on the vulnerable.

  15. GhostofJimMorrison

    I agree. Tell people to act more responsibly: stop demonising ‘the poor’. Suggesting welfare spending is far too high: stop victimising the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. I do not and never have paid any mind to Daily Mail-benefits street garbage, but we need a sensible debate about these issues without being shouted down by doo-gooding luvvies and media types.

  16. GhostofJimMorrison

    Ethical education? That’s a new one. Just speak properly and stop trying to impress people 🙂

  17. Guest

    You’re making up conspiracy theories. It’s when goods and not workers are allowed to cross borders that we see workers get shafted.

    You’re also utterly ignorant of history.

  18. Guest

    Ah yes, how dare those kids not be poorer.

    Your saying that the government does not have some basic responsabilities, as you attack the poor for middle-class vices, as you use your “experience” (i.e. anecdote, not data) to have a go at the Peons….

  19. Guest

    So what, you write the stuff offhand?

    There is debate, you just don’t like it when you have people not agreeing with you. That you feel our very low and threadbare welfare net needs cutting, with disasterous consequences (food aid, wish I was kidding), that you see “responsable” behavior as people not doing what they’ve long sinced stopped doing as too expensive, but you use as a stick to beat the poor (no quotes) with…

    Poverty is rising. But evidently it’s too low for you, by your post.

  20. Guest

    So you blame Universities for poverty. And lawyers. And magical alliances.

    Never mind we have a very low-paying, threadbare welfare system, as you deny the left exist or something.

    That you want to demand more from the poor…

  21. Guest

    You seem to be doing so, however.

  22. itdoesntaddup

    Surely in our education system where all must have prizes, there are no dim children, even rich ones?

    If you are saying that the dim should be demoted, I don’t think that is a message that will sell on the doorstep. The fact is, you’ve lost touch with how to promote the able because ability no longer matters in your view. Promoting the incompetent – just so long as they spout the right mantras or have the right ethno-sexual origins – produces some kind of social mobility. Unfortunately, an ability to be a parrot applies to dim rich kids just as much as dim poor ones.

  23. davidhill

    You want to read modern history that shows your words are the words of a propagandist that loves capitalism and all its ill virtues. Get a real life in the real world and grow up. Conspiracy theories are only conspiracy theories when history says that they are. Where’s your proof that the vast majority of Britains are now better off with your own personal theories? And don’t give me GDP figures etc that distort the whole situation and where only the rich 10% have benefited from any growth in GDP.

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