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Social Mobility or Social Justice

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Last week I was doing some research and I happened across and interesting report from the education select committee reviewing the work and the future of the social mobility commission, following the resignation of all the commissioners. The report itself had some damning things to say about the government’s treatment of the commission and the distinct failure of the government to work to achieve a higher standard of social mobility, despite the prime minister stating that social mobility would be a priority of her government.

The thing that interested me the most was the discussion about social justice vs social mobility. The education select committee expressed a feeling that social mobility seems to focus on raising people up the ladder of opportunity, and can sometimes leave people struggling to get onto that ladder. They discussed that the current focus seems to be on picking a few out of poverty and giving them an opportunity to attend a good university. Their recommendation was that the name of the commission be changed from social mobility to social justice and that their focus be to look at all policy changes from a social justice viewpoint to ensure that it was working for all. These recommendations appear to have been rejected by the government.

Roll forward a few days and I read an article about the opposition policy announcement that they would alter the name and focus of the commission from social mobility to social justice and switch its focus from picking a few to lift out to a radical new way of thinking which aims to help everyone. When I read the article I could see that the opposition had clearly read the education select committee’s report. That they too feel that after decades of failure by consecutive governments from both sides of the house to achieve a more equal society a radical overhaul in the approach was required.

To me this seems a sensible policy. Tweaking has failed, we’ve rehashed the same policy ideas over and over and all we have seen is a greater inequality than we had before. Surely it’s time to rethink? But then I read the backlash. The education secretary spoke out against the idea saying it was “downgrading the importance of social mobility”. Let that sink in, the current government have downgraded the importance of social mobility so much that the entire commission resigned due to government actions and their education secretary is accusing this policy of downgrading the importance. The hypocrisy is ridiculous and there is also a condescending overtone to those who do not want to move towards a graduate career. To write these people off as being “without ambition” is wholly wrong. A university education is not the only measure of success.

Then there is the idea that getting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university is even a good indication of social mobility and reducing inequality. In a world where unpaid internships and old boys networks are the biggest steppingstones to the top jobs getting to university is only half the battle. A shift of focus from social mobility to tackling the inequality in society at all levels is, for me,  a welcome one.

Further Reading:

Education Select Committee report mentioned above, The future of the Social Mobility Commission: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmeduc/866/86602.htm

TES report on Labour policy and Hinds’ response: https://www.tes.com/news/labour-swap-social-mobility-social-justice

Letter from Prof Reay (Cambridge University) on social mobility: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/28/social-mobility-is-the-wrong-goal-what-we-need-is-more-equality

 

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