Sunday, June 18, 2006


Atrophied social mobility II

Hot on the heels of my post yesterday comes a piece by Will Hutton in today's Observer
which mentions, in passing, the 2004 book, Mind the Gap, by veteran liberal Tory, Ferdinand Mount (see review here). Hutton makes a number of points which add more substance to my remarks of yesterday:

i) inequality of opportunity is getting worse: 'while the proportion of children from the bottom 20 per cent gaining degrees has only increased fractionally since the 1970s, at the same time the proportion from the top 20 per cent achieving degrees has more than doubled.'

ii) with so many degrees chasing jobs a 'higher premium has been placed non formal means of selecting candidates; the subtle accoutrements of class matter more.' So we see advantages won by the middle-class children in the job market in terms of their public school induced confidence; their superior network of parent related contacts; and the superior financial help they receive from parents during the low earning early years.

iii)the hypocrisy of the media in hurling criticism at suggestions that universities might weight admissions in favour of candidates from less advantaged backgrounds, 'while showing no interest in the collapse of Britain's apprenticeship system.'

Ferdinand Mount's pre Cameron book is cited for mourning the loss of agencies of social mobility through the 'disintegration' of working class institutions over the last half century-like effective modern trade unions and the mutual building societies. Mount identifies, as the root of the problem, the huge ghettos of social housing created after the second world war. Locked into these crime and drug blighted zones, with their no-hope schools compounded by surrounding poverty of material condition as well as ambition, it is hardly surprising that the young of such places become locked in for life, thus leaving the wholly unlevel playing field to be dominated by the middle classes. Hutton concludes that while class differences are probably impossible to eliminate, a fairer more pluralist society, offering more genuine opportunity is not unachievable.

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