The Guardian’s view on the Social Mobility Commission: A series of broken promises | Editorial

It was foreseeable that the first annual report of the Social Mobility Commission under the leadership of Katharine Birbalsingh would present a rosier picture than that to which critics of our deeply unequal society are accustomed. Ministers appointed Ms Birbalsingh because they believe she is unlikely to make life difficult for them. His brand of ‘can do’ tenacity suits a government that wants young people to do their best (who doesn’t?) but doesn’t want to be challenged by the corrosive effects of poverty or the hoarding of opportunity by the wealthy.

The argument presented in last week’s report is that the pessimists have had too much airtime: job mobility has been stable for decades. Any recent decline is blamed on earlier successes – the massive expansion of professional jobs at the end of the 20th century could not continue indefinitely. The report acknowledges that income mobility follows a different trajectory, with people born since the late 1970s less likely to change their circumstances. He notes that the pay gap between women from professional and working backgrounds has widened since 2014, and admits the impact of the pandemic is yet to be factored in.

But the focus is firmly on blowing the clouds and giving as much attention as possible to the inspiring stories of young people who defy the odds to “change their stars”. On several occasions, he refers to the importance of factors that fall outside the scope of socio-economic analysis: culture, values, “family momentum and motivation”. In other words, the commission has strayed as far as possible from its initial attribution of child poverty.

It’s easy to be scandalized by Mrs. Birbalsingh, which built its reputation on attacking the progressive consensus in post-1960 education. The reaction to his recent remark that there is too much emphasis on bring poor pupils to Oxbridge was a good example. She is right to say that the two oldest universities in the UK attract disproportionate attention and not enough attention is paid to young people who do not get degrees. It is true that social mobility doesn’t just mean rags to riches and can encompass more gradual changes.

The report also makes reasonable points about the data, including how decentralization has made it harder to track social trends across the UK’s four countries. It celebrates the evidence of closing achievement gaps in education, while dodging more recent disturbing reportswith case studies highlighting the essential role played by teachers.

But none of this should distract from the bigger problem, which is that the commission, in the decade of its existence, has failed to deliver on its promises. Previous presidents have recognized this, which is why they resigned: Alan Milburn in 2017, followed by Lady Martina Milburn in 2020. MPs were also critical, but ministers rejected a suggestion from the education select committee that it should become a social justice commission with a dedicated minister.

Even the authors of this report have doubts. They quote the academic expert John Goldthorpe, who believes that “younger generations of men and women now have less favorable prospects for mobility than their parents”. Mobility of heritage and assets (in particular lodging) are where attention should turn. But that is unlikely to happen under the current government. Austerity and the pandemic have made it even harder to make Britain less unfair. It is difficult to see the Social Mobility Commission making the slightest difference.

The Guardian’s view on the Social Mobility Commission: A series of broken promises | Editorial

Source link The Guardian’s view on the Social Mobility Commission: A series of broken promises | Editorial

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