A major new report says public policy over the last 20 years has failed to help Britain's poor improve their prospects
Two decades of government efforts to improve social mobility have failed and the gap between Britian’s haves and have nots will widen more without fundamental reforms.
A hard-hitting report from the Social Mobility Commission, an independent body that monitors progress on social mobility, has revealed that attempts to end familial generations of poverty have mostly failed.
The Time for Change report examines various public policies pursued over the last 20 years and assesses the impact they have had – for good or ill – on social mobility in Britain.
The in-depth analysis, carried out for the first time, covers four life stages from the early years and school through to training and further or higher education and then into the world of work.
It gives red, amber and green ratings depending on how successful governments have been in translating policy into positive social outcomes.
Damningly, the report is not able to give a single green rating to any of the life stages. Both early years and schools are given an amber rating, while young people and working lives receives a red. Overall, only seven policies score a green while 14 score amber and 16 red.
While the report says that some policies – such as increasing employment and getting more working-class young people into university – have had a positive impact, overall the report concludes that too little has been done to break the link between socio-economic background and social progress.
It says that over 20 years new divides have opened up in Britain, across geographies, income groups and generations – and that many policies of the past are no longer fit for purpose.
The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “For two decades, successive governments have made the pursuit of higher levels of social mobility one of the holy grails of public policy. While there has been some progress, it has not gone far enough towards translating welcome political sentiments into positive social outcomes.
“In fact, what is so striking about this new analysis is how divided we have become as a nation. A new geographical divide has open opened up, a new income divide has opened up and a new generational divide has opened up.
“If we go on like this, these divisions are set to widen, not narrow. There is a growing sense in the nation that these divisions are not sustainable, socially, economically or politically. There is hunger for change.”
A number of charities have also called for a new approach to tackling social mobility in light of the report.
Eleanor Briggs, head of policy and research at Action for Children, said: "Sadly, as they walk into school on their first day, more than half of children from low-income families in this country are already on the back foot.
“Being behind their peers in basic communication and social skills is a disadvantage many will find difficult to overcome as they progress through school and into adult life.
“Without real leadership and a rethinking of how we invest in the earliest years this cycle of deprivation and inequality will continue for generations to come.”
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said that tackling child poverty is essential for improving life chances.
“At UK level that means reinstating the UK’s poverty-reduction targets and reinvesting in universal credit and tax credits for hard-up parents who are desperate to get on. A UK government in denial about child poverty is a government in denial about social mobility.”
In Scotland, Dickie said the government should use its new social security powers to top up child benefit by £5 a week.
This call was echoed by the Poverty Alliance. Its director Peter Kelly said: “We believe that child benefit should be increased by £5 per week, and in Scotland alone this would lift 30,000 children out of poverty. A recent Survation poll also showed that almost two-thirds of Scots support this measure.
“More must also be done for people who do not have children, and we are calling on the UK government to reverse the freeze of working age benefits.
“For too long the cost of living has gone up while people’s incomes have stayed the same. This applies to those in work too, and more must be done to encourage employers to pay the real Living Wage.”
The Social Mobility Commission has made five recommendations to the UK government, including introducing new 10 year targets and subjecting all new public policy to a social mobility test.