The UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission report calls for urgent reform to socio-economic policy as the current trends point towards further divisions and fragmentation of society across the UK.
The report recognises that “often, long-term progress has too often been sacrificed to short-term change” (p5) which has led to severe consequences and divisions threatening community cohesion.
Key areas of concern
The trend in inequality is particularly evident between generations, income groups and regions:
- 30% of young people are now classified as poor
- it will take more than 40 years before the attainment gap between poor 5 years-olds and their better-off peers is closed
Income and wealth divide
- Poverty among UK pensioners halved over the past 20 years period
- UK Pensioner income average exceeds the income of adults who are in work
- A major impact of this trend is in housing costs and whereby home ownership has become unaffordable:
- Output per person is £15,069 in Fife (Fife’s Economic Strategy 2017-2027), compared to:
- UK has greater regional disparities in economic performance than any other European country
Across the ‘life stages’ discussed in the report (Early Years, Schools, Young People, Working Lives), none attained a green rating:
- Early years and Schools get an amber rating
- Young people and Work get a red rating
In summary, the report’s key findings are that:
- government policies to improve social mobility have failed to deliver enough progress
- calls on current and future governments to learn lessons from mistakes and successes over the last 20 years
- warns that without major reform social and economic divisions within Britain’s society are set to widen
- assigns rag ratings to government policies depending on how successful government has translated policy into social outcomes
Fife Centre for Equalities recognises the key points of the Social Mobility Commission, and welcomes the life stages approach to understanding the shifting patterns of inequality across the different communities that make up our society.
Beyond Early Years, Schools, Young People, Working Lives, the report adequately discusses the importance of Pre-Natal Years and Parenting, and makes a strong call for reinstating parenting programmes and improving housing conditions of children and young people (p8).
A marked omission here however is the welfare of older people beyond the retirement age and the fact that this is not discussed as a social mobility issue. While at the moment UK Pensioner income exceeds on average the income of adults who are in work (p5), thinking of pensioner as uniform group only fosters intergenerational division. Currently, 1 in 6 pensioners are in poverty (JRF, 2017). In Scotland in the years 2014-2015, 120,000 people of pensionable age were still living in poverty (Fairer Scotland Action Plan, 2016). Even for those the better off in the current cohort of pensioners, the future of pensions without triple-lock safeguards will make pensioner poverty be increasingly concerning.
While auto-enrolment as it has been rolled out has addressed some concerns, there is a marked disparity in income wealth – with the poorest fifth of UK society earning only 8% of the total income, whereas the top fifth collect 40%. This in turn affects income during retirement, effectively condemning a vast proportion of UK society in poverty throughout working lives and beyond (Equality Trust, 2017). Furthermore the pattern of pension enrolment is unequal across industries and sectors – currently private sector (9.3%) is markedly low compared to the public sector (48.2%) – (CIPP, 2017).
In terms of schooling and education, a rebalancing of the curriculum towards incorporating social and emotional learning is welcome, as in our view working together to develop Healthy Relationships is the bedrock of strong and cohesive communities.
Considering working lives, the report also highlights that Governments have not used legislation to drive improvement in social mobility in the workplace (p78). For instance, the socio-economic duty of the Equality Act 2010, requiring public bodies to assess their decisions’ potential impact on social mobility has not been not enacted and this has slowed the transparency agenda.
FCE welcomes the commission’s call for making increasing socio-economic diversity in professional employment a priority, as making work cultures and practices become more inclusive paves the way to a more equal and inclusive society in the long-term.
For a PDF of this briefing, click FCE Position on Time for Change – JUN2017.
Time For Change: An Assessment of Government Policies on Social Mobility 1997-2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/622214/Time_for_Change_report_-_An_assessement_of_government_policies_on_social_mobility_1997-2017.pdf
Quarterly National Accounts Scotland, 2016 Quarter 4. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/QNA2016Q4
Fife’s Economic Strategy 2017-2027
Progress on social mobility too slow, commission report warns
Public sector staff pay twice as much into pension pots
Social mobility: radical reform urged to repair divided Britain