Today a new report by the Social Mobility Commission concluded once and for all that the British government’s performance on social mobility over past 20 years has failed to significantly reduce the gap between the “haves and have nots”. Without immediate reform by the government, it advised, the gulf between rich and poor will only grow larger with grave consequences for society.
If the report had been released a month earlier reporters might have been quicker to note a mirrored correlation between Labour’s election manifesto and its findings. Based on years of research that dates back to Tony Blair’s New Labour government the overarching discovery was that Britain is a nation that is working for the few and not the many – And it’s the young that are suffering the most.
Across various life stages – from the early years, through schools, into training or further/higher education and then into the world of work – the Commission’s assessment gave each public policy a rating – red, amber or green – based on how successful it has been across the two decades as a whole. No one life stage got a green age, but two were rated red – Young people and working lives.
Despite universities’ success in opening their doors to more working class youngsters than ever before, retention rates and graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students have barely improved over the period.
The report found that if progress continues at the current rate, it will take 120 years before disadvantaged young people become as likely as their better-off peers to achieve A levels or equivalent qualifications. In higher education, it will take more than 80 years before the participation gap between students from disadvantaged and more advantaged areas closes.
And there’s not much good news when they get in to work either.
The report noted that the “quality of lower paid jobs has not matched the quantity, whilst the highest paid and most influential jobs remain deeply elitist”.
Mirror that with Labour’s manifesto and you see some remarkable similarities.
The opening lines to Labour’s pledges on getting a “fair deal at work” argued that “work should provide people with security and fulfilment. But for too many people work is insecure and does not make ends meet”.
Corbyn’s focus on young people also needs little introduction.
According to the Social Mobility Commission initiatives such as increasing access to university have significantly improved social mobility, yet as Labour’s manifesto points out last year saw the steepest fall in university applications for 30 years.
To quote directly from it, “since the Conservatives came to power, university tuition fees have been trebled to over £9,000 a year, and maintenance grants have been abolished and replaced with loans.
“The average student now graduates from university, and starts their working life, with debts of £44,000. Labour will reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and we will abolish university tuition fees.
“University tuition is free in many northern European countries, and under a Labour government it will be free here too.”
Without immediate reform by the government the gap between rich and poor will only grow larger, Alan Milburn, chair of the commission noted, but perhaps the most striking thing to come from the analysis is how divided we have become as a nation, which was evidenced in the General Election.
With more questions than answers set to come over the next few months it is anybody’s guess which direction we are going as a nation, but one thing that is for sure is that Corbyn’s pledges as set out in his manifesto have just been given the seal of authority they may need.
Soon he will be viewed as the antidote to our deep societal ills.