If you look hard at the launch of the Coalition’s social mobility strategy today, you might just make out a fairly large elephant in the room. And the elephant is Equality.
Without tackling inequality, social mobility risks being reduced to giving a few people a helping hand up an ever lengthening ladder The UK remains the sixth richest nation on the planet – but one increasingly characterized by inequality between rich and poor. As the National Equality Panel revealed last year, the net household wealth of the richest 10% is now almost 100 times higher than that of the poorest tenth of the population – a gap higher than at any time for at least the past 30 years.
Yet in all the talk of social mobility (and child poverty, when that gets a look in) politicians seem curiously silent when it comes to the E word.
As Julian Dobson has observed: “Ministers often talk of Britain as a meritocracy where the deserving rise to the top, and, by implication, those who do not rise to the top are undeserving. The flaw in this thinking is that it equates access to opportunities, which is a good thing, with an increase in opportunities, which would be a far better thing. To judge a government’s record by social mobility is like saying a lottery is OK if everyone has the same chance of winning it; it ignores the fact that in life, as in lotteries, there are far more losers than winners. A much better goal is reducing the number of losers”.
In more unequal societies, the stakes of ‘failure’ are much higher. This is why middle class parents are prepared to fight much harder to get their kids into the ‘right’ schools, and why it is consequently much harder for poorer families to fight their way up the ladder.
So lets just reacquaint ourselves with these fine words, uttered in 2009:
“Research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett has shown that among the richest countries, it’s the more unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator. In The Spirit Level, they show that per capita GDP is much less significant for a country’s life expectancy, crime levels, literacy and health than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest in the population. So the best indicator of a country’s rank on these measures of general well-being is not the difference in wealth between them, but the difference in wealth within them.”
And who uttered these? Our very own Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, in his Hugo Young lecture. So never mind Nick’s strategy for promoting greater social mobility, I’m still waiting for Dave’s strategy for achieving greater equality.