Social Mobility: How it can transform society

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Social mobility is highly important for the development of society – no one’s birth should prevent them from being afforded the same opportunities as one another. Social mobility should be the government’s top priority because it is interlinked with every aspect of our lives: education, employment, investment in local communities, equality – the list goes on. It “dictates whether children are on the path to having a better life than their parents, or if they will remained tethered to their socio-economic status.” As highlighted by Visual Capitalist, social mobility is integral to citizens in terms of the relationship between the individual’s progression and the government, as it can “erod[e] trust in institutions”. According to upReach, “a student from a disadvantaged background who gains a first-class degree from a top university is less likely to secure an elite job than a more privileged student with a 2:2”, thus highlighting that education is not the primary barrier to equality of opportunity. 

In the UK, social mobility charities such as upReach and the Social Mobility Foundation are integral to supporting students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, or those who are only state educated, to develop their professional skills. The Social Mobility Foundation aims to “make a practical improvement in social mobility for young people”, which has been demonstrated through “SMF-led internships”. upReach similarly works with partner employers to provide career guidance and opportunities for its Associates to improve employability skills such as self-awareness, commercial awareness as well as interview skills. Its work is partially demonstrated through insight days, which are highly regarded by its Associates, as 86% “rated Insight Days as ‘extremely useful’ or ‘very useful'”. This demonstrates that the top employers such as KPMG are increasingly focused on improving access through focused recruitment initiatives such as insight days. Indeed, the University of Exeter has confirmed the excellent work that upReach does as: “upReach Associates at the University of Exeter not only had a Graduate Destination Score higher than eligible students from the university, but also outperformed their more advantaged peers”. 

Employers are increasingly recognising the barriers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds in terms of equality of opportunity and increasingly in terms of grade attainment. For example, the Financial Times highlights that “students are no longer required to have a minimum of 300 Ucas points (equivalent to three B grades)” for applications to EY which will instead use online assessments and numerical tests. Alternatively, “Deloitte has adopted contextualised academic data for its entry-level recruitment process” to broaden access for disadvantaged students. Consequently, the Big Four accountancy firms are broadening their horizons to look at the individual as a whole and consider academic achievements in context. 

There are tangible impacts from collaboration between charities and students which demonstrates that such organisations drive social mobility in the UK. For example, “86.5% of upReach Associates who graduated in 2018 were in highly skilled employment or further study 15 months after graduation (Guardian methodology”. Consequently, it shows that social mobility charities are driving this initiative. 

In terms of international comparisons, the UK must do more to improve social mobility. According to the World Economic Forum, the UK is currently ranked 21st and therefore far behind fellow European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, which are listed as the top four. In terms of Western European countries, Germany is ranked 11th and France is ranked 12th. Research demonstrates that states such as Denmark perform well on social mobility rankings because it prioritises a supportive welfare state and thus demonstrates “low levels of income inequality and high levels of social mobility in income across generations”. However, a comprehensive overview of Denmark does demonstrate that socioeconomic background remains influential as “more advantaged families are better able to access and utilize programs”, revealing that across states, relative wealth still largely influences progression. 

Furthermore, given the COVID-19 pandemic, social mobility is increasingly important because it has had a significant ability on learning capacity. A report by the Social Mobility Foundation demonstrates that before the pandemic “a child with a laptop is more than twice as likely to achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs than one without. However, since the pandemic, lost learning is argued to have a significant impact on lifetime earning with a “loss of 1% and 3.4% for pupils”. This raises the importance of equality of resource distribution to ensure that every pupil can reach their potential. 

A stark consequence of Conservative government-imposed austerity measures is a decline in social mobility in the UK. The Guardian reports that: “The poll, by the Social Mobility Commission, found stark regional differences in people’s perceptions of their life prospects, with people in the north-east and north-west of England significantly less optimistic than their southern counterparts.” This clearly highlights the relationship between where one lives and their life prospects. Furthermore, the Social Mobility Commission highlights the failings of the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. For example, “almost one in three children (4.3 million) is now in child poverty, 700,000 more than 2012, the report reveals”. This is a hugely damning report of the coalition government with David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg at the heart of the austerity measures – the last decade has significantly worsened the ability for pupils to fairly progress throughout their life. The SMC has declared that the government “should now dig deep again to take the same decisive action to tackle inequality and improve social mobility.” The government must dramatically increase its commitment to tackle equality of opportunity in the UK.

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