Tag Archives: social mobility

The Independent View: The richest 1% will soon have a record share of our national income

Just before the general election Nick Clegg complained that the gap between the mean average incomes of the richest fifth as compared to the poorest fifth in Britain had risen from 6.9 to 1 in 1997 to approach 7.2 to 1 towards the end of Labour’s 13 years in power. This shift took the UK one quarter of the way towards becoming as unequal in income as the world’s most unequal large affluent country, the United States.

Within the last 15 months the emergency budget, the March 2011 budget and the comprehensive spending review combined have moved Britain far faster towards …

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged and | 30 Comments

The Big Society: the answer’s in the book

One of the curios of some library campaigners extolling the virtues of books whilst also mocking the Big Society for supposedly being incomprehensible or non-existent is that there is a short, clear and well-written book which lays out just what it is. Conservative MP Jesse Norman’s book, The Big Society, is certainly not uncontroversial, but it makes a sufficiently strong and clear case to have received favourable comments from across the political spectrum on its publication last autumn, including from Labour MP Jon Cruddas.

At times the book seems to have two, almost contradictory, purposes – to persuade traditional Conservatives …

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The use of class over the years: a graph

Whilst pondering the phrase I love to hate, social mobility (see here for the explanation, featuring benches and broken paving stones), I wondered how its usage how fared over the years in books. Courtesy of Google’s rather nifty book search tool, I’ve produced this graph of how frequently the phrase and several others have been used in the very large number of books in English that have been scanned by Google:

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LibLink: Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith on social mobility

As part of the government’s launch of its social mobility strategy this week, Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith co-authored a piece for the Daily Telegraph:

Labour couldn’t make up its mind on what goal it was chasing. Social exclusion? Income poverty? Inequality? Social mobility? Lacking a clear agenda, it fixated on just one measure of fairness – the poverty line, defined as 60 per cent of median income. This is a necessary part of the equation, but it is very far from sufficient.

Billions of pounds were spent by Labour moving people just above that line, without significantly changing their

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Government skirts round deciding how important social mobility is as an end in itself

As Chris Dillow has highlighted, the Coalition Government’s social mobility strategy contains wording that looks like a compromise between different Liberal Democrat and Conservative influences. It’s in this key paragraph (1.43):

Of course, income equality is an important goal in its own right, but the challenge in terms of social mobility is to understand the key components of a more mobile society which do not appear to be related to simple measures of income equality.

If income equality is important and it has an impact on social mobility, why go on then to emphasise and concentrate on only those elements of social mobility which are not related to income equality? The answer of course is that this is a compromise document produced by a coalition. Although Chris Dillow talks of it being a compromise between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, as if the Lib Dems are all of one view, in this case I suspect he’s being a little too generous to the Liberal Democrats as there is plenty of room for disagreement within the Liberal Democrats over the relative importance and connections between income equality and social mobility.

There is much very good in the social mobility strategy – including the very fact that a Conservative Prime Minister has been persuaded to sign-off on a document that says “Of course, income equality is an important goal in its own right” and which, in addition to these words, lays out many policies that have not exactly been loved by the right in British politics. It is indeed, as Matthew D’Ancona put it, “an astonishing achievement”.

But whatever the exact cause of the compromise wording and despite these good parts to it, we are still left none the wiser as to where Nick Clegg really wants to lead the party on the issue of income equality. Aside from the problems of social mobility being a phrase that doesn’t work with the public and which obscures the question of who is moving down if more people are moving up, there is a substantive policy debate to be had here. It’s one in which the words “social mobility” can even get in the way, as Charlie Beckett argues:

I wonder if the words ‘social mobility’ should join @johnrentoul ‘s list of banned phrases? I think it has now reached the point George Orwell’s described where ‘political writing becomes bad writing’.

Social mobility is now a meaningless phrase, or rather, it has a different meaning according to your political position and vision. And this matters because your definition of the language dictates your policy, too.

Real social mobility – all other things being equal – must surely mean that some people will rise over their lives and others will fall. If we all rise then that is simply economic growth. If only a lower social group rise relative to a higher group, then that is egalitarianism, not social mobility. If just a few people rise, then that’s just tokenism. Of course, you might have all of this at the same time. And West Ham might win the Champions League. It’s possible, but extremely unlikely.

The party currently has a Policy Working Group which is looking at many of these issues and, looking at the make-up of the group, it’s not hard to predict that it will come out with recommendations that place a significant emphasis on income equality. That will at least give party conference a chance to take a view on this issue, but in the interim day in, day out ministers are making decisions – and from the public statements from Liberal Democrat ministers there is no clear, consistent view being put forward.

But for all those problems and caveats, there is much that is good in a social mobility strategy the highlights of which include a new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission being established, not to mention success for Lynne Featherstone’s name-blank employment campaign.

Nick Clegg said at the social mobility strategy’s launch:

Fairness is one of the fundamental values of the Coalition Government. A fair society is an open society where everybody is free to flourish and where birth is never destiny.

In Britain today, life chances are narrowed for too many by the circumstances of their birth: the home they’re born into, the neighbourhood they grow up in or the jobs their parents do. Patterns of inequality are imprinted from one generation to the next.

A recent report by the Sutton Trust estimated that the economic benefits of improving social mobility could be worth £140 billion a year by 2050. This is not only a question of fairness – opening up opportunities is in the interests of the economy and of the country.

There is no particular age when the cycles of disadvantage can be broken. The opportunity gap has to be addressed at every stage of life, from early years to working age. And Government cannot do it alone. Employers, parents, communities and voluntary organisations all have a part to play.

Social Mobility Strategy

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Clegg signals success for Lynne Featherstone’s name-blank employment campaign

In amongst the details of this week’s government announcements on social mobility was a commitment to extend name-blank employment, a long-term campaign of Liberal Democrat MP and now Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

As Lynne explained in a newspaper column back in 2009 the logic is this – blanking out names on job applications would remove subconscious discrimination at a key stage in the job application process. Discrimination at later stages could of course still occur, but if subconscious decisions are being made based on people’s names before they even get the chance to get into a room and impress in …

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Social mobility: new reporting coming but what is the real objective?

Tuesday sees the launch by Nick Clegg of a social mobility strategy for the government, including a new ‘report card’ to track the government’s progess.

The phrase “social mobility” is one I still don’t like. It is too much like that other inside-politics phrase “street furniture”. Councillors and council officers talk about street furniture works, improvements, strategies, investments and proposals with abandon but you never hear someone say, “I’ve just moved into my new flat and the local street furniture is lovely”. Street furniture matters, but falling into the habit of using an uncommon piece of jargon hinders understanding, …

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Nick Clegg’s delivery diary

Nick Clegg’s article in the Indy today is a spare, evidential piece, as neatly sliced and lacking in rhetoric as an appointment diary.

But what a diary. Flip back a year, and Gordon was driving to the Palace to call the General Election, as the Liberal Democrats prepared to launch their manifesto.

Now, Nick writes,

…something is happening that, for the Liberal Democrats, is a new experience: the policies we championed during the election are becoming reality. I don’t mean that consultations are being announced, votes held, or papers published. Over the next few days, lives will be changed for

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Opinion: Framing the social mobility debate

In the coming weeks, the coalition government will unveil its much-heralded strategy for improving social mobility. Nick Clegg has sought to make this the central tenet of the government’s social policy platform for the remainder of the parliament. He therefore has a great personal stake in ensuring its success.

An essential part of that will be ensuring that the strategy tackles the right issues – the causes of low social mobility. Here, there is some reason for concern because the dominant media (and political) narrative on social mobility suggests a misunderstanding of the current evidence.

We are all, by now, …

Posted in The Independent View | 4 Comments

Conference preview: consulting on the future, inequality and digital policy

This weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference in Sheffield starts on the Friday afternoon with three policy consultation sessions: Facing the Future, Information Technology and Intellectual Property and Inequality.

The Facing the Future policy working group is chaired by Norman Lamb MP and, as Norman explained on this site last autumn, is intended to set the party’s broad policy framework for the next few years. Having such a key party leadership figure chairing the group is good news as it raises the chances of the group’s deliberations and outcomes having an impact on what the Liberal Democrats in government subsequently do.

The big challenge for the group is to avoid the fate of previous similar broad policy reviews which generally have done a good job at the technical details of what policies need reviewing and in which order, but have tended to have either very muddled overall messages or messages that sink largely without trace. (It’s a time for Facing up to the Future of Challenge, Opportunity and Responsibility while Moving Ahead to Meet the Challenge, Make the Change a policy wonk might almost say.)

Norman LambThe success of this group is all the more important this time round as without a clear direction, the party’s policymaking processes are likely to get over-shadowed by the day-to-day decision making impetus from government – where the policy teams are coalition rather than Liberal Democrat teams.

Norman’s presence as chair of the group is therefore particularly welcome, and it’s the absence of a similar senior leadership figure from the chair of the other two groups that illustrates their main challenge.

The Information Technology and Intellectual Property group (chaired by Julian Huppert, and which I’m a member of) and the Inequality group (chaired by David Hall-Matthews) both need to get their own recommendations right. But almost as important is to have recommendations which Liberal Democrats in government then pay some attention to. In both cases, the more closely the policies are drawn up with regular discussion with those in government, the more likely they are to have an impact on what happens.

Take the example of the Inequality group, which amongst other issues looking at those of social mobility and how important, or not, overall levels of equality are. The consultation paper says both are “crucial” and that tackling the former “would not necessarily” lead to improvements in the latter. That, and the chairmanship of David Hall-Matthews, give a fairly strong clue as to the recommendations the group is likely to produce. The key test, however, will be the degree to which any such recommendations influence the words and actions of Liberal Democrat ministers, especially Nick Clegg whose emphasis has been very much on only the former.

In my experience, policy working groups are very open to the views of others in the party where they are clearly put and with some evidence or experience to substantiate them (not a hurdle all submissions pass, alas!). So although some of the bigger questions may be beyond the direct reach of individual party members, I’d strongly encourage people to take part in the consultation processes.

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Agenda and Directory 2011

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The problem with social mobility

Nick Clegg often talks about social mobility, but is it the right focus for the party’s social efforts?

The day after he was elected Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg set up a commission to look at social mobility in the UK. In the two years since then, he has regularly returned to the topic, and it has become a priority of his for party and then government policy-making, alongside making frequent appearances in speeches, slogans and soundbites from leading party figures.

Yet it is a phrase that risks becoming over-used, for it fails to communicate effectively what makes us Liberal Democrats …

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The political thought of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1945: book review

Kevin Hickson’s volume, The political thought of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1945, may be a short volume from an academic publisher with an academic book price tag to boot (look out for cheaper second-hand copies) but its contributors include many political practitioners. With Vince Cable, Steve Webb, David Howarth , Richard Grayson and Duncan Brack amongst them, this book has a very strong representation of people at the coalface of policy making rather than simply those who know of it only in theory.

As Hickson points out in the book’s introduction, the policies of the Liberal Democrats – even more so than other aspects of the history of the party and its predecessors since 1945 – have had very little coverage in books, an omission which this volume sets out to remedy and which political fortunes in the year after the book’s publication has made all the more useful a task to tackle.

Posted in Books, Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Also tagged , , , , , and | 1 Comment

The Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011: recap

Over the last week I’ve had a series of posts about the main Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011. In case you’ve missed any of them over the Christmas festivities, here is a quick recap:

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The Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011: defining and explaining economic fairness

This is the final piece in a series of posts on the main Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Having started this series with the economy and then moving on to more internal issue in latter posts, it seems fitting to return to economic issues for the final post in this series.

Getting the substance on economic fairness right is and should continue to be a top priority for the party. In addition, getting the messaging right will help differentiate not only the Liberal Democrat contribution to the coalition from that of …

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Frank Field echoes Nick Clegg’s approach to tackling poverty

Labour MP Frank Field’s Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, commissioned by the government and published last week has added to the debate over whether efforts should focus on increasing social mobility:

He proposes that the government switches focus from Labour’s anti-poverty measure, based on material income, to a set of life chance indicators.

He writes: “Poverty is a much more subtle enemy than purely lack of money,” adding that he does not believe poverty is the dominant reason why disadvantage is handed down from one generation to another.

Parenting is more important than income or schooling to a child’s life

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How does The Spirit Level withstand a critic?

The success of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level (reviewed here in August) in setting the terms for much political discussion unsurprisingly triggered a burst of publications taking a sceptical look at their case. Prime amongst these is Policy Exchange’s publication Beware False Prophets, by Peter Saunders, whose title gives you a fair clue as to its line.

As the book says on its back cover:

In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett claimed that egalitarian societies benefit rich and poor alike. Crime rates are lower, infant mortality is reduced, obesity is less prevalent, education

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Nick Clegg: we are the new progressives

Earlier this evening I went along to the Guardian’s offices at King’s Place to hear Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg give the Hugo Young lecture. Given the fractious recent relations between Liberal Democrats and Guardian journalists, it was a slightly incongruous combination, especially when the topic of Clegg’s speech – progressive politics – was preceded by rather posh canapés.

But to the substance of the speech (a version of which appeared on Comment is Free earlier today and whose comments on control orders I blogged about earlier); Clegg set out his stall for a different version of progressive politics …

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LibLink: David Laws and Julian Astle – Coalition must not waste the pupil premium

Over at the Financial Times today, former Lib Dem cabinet minister David Laws and CentreForum’s director Julian Astle write about the potential of the ‘pupil premium’ to transform the life chances of pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds — but argue that schools must be held accountable for using the money directly for this purpose. Here’s an excerpt:

The pupil premium, which for the first time will see a universal service underpinned by an explicitly pro-poor funding system, sits front-and-centre in this agenda.

At present there is additional school funding for young people from deprived backgrounds, but it is allocated in

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Clegg on social mobility: “making opportunity a right of the many, rather than a privilege of the few”

Nick Clegg today delivered his widely trailed speech on improving social mobility today, marking the 100th day of the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition Government. You can read the full text below, also available at the party website.

Lib Dem Voice Co-Editor Mark Pack has put on his professional hat over at the Mandate blog to offer his commentary, concluding there might be some internal juggling going on between the Coalition partners:

Perhaps too there is a piece of internal coalition manoeuvring going on here: let the Conservatives be the hard-nosed people who balance the books and grudgingly win

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Social mobility and the Lib Dems: will Alan Milburn’s appointment help?

The weekend media was full of the news of Alan Milburn’s putative return to front-line politics with his appointment to a role advising the Coalition Government on policies to promote social mobility.

Reaction to the news has been mixed. John Prescott, never one to mince his words when he can mangle them instead, spat out that Mr Milburn was a “collaborator”. Conservative blogger Iain Dale was disappointed to see the Coalition’s big tent expanding to include a former New Labour cabinet minister: “One day they might actually appoint a Conservative.”

For the Lib Dems, Simon Hughes was more amenable to …

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Confessions of a ‘Newbie’

I went to the one-day Lib Dem policy conference at the London School of Economics at the weekend. As a fairly new member of the Lib Dems (I joined a few months ago) I was curious to see what happens at these sort of events and was also looking forward to it. I attended with Darren, a fellow member of my local constituency branch in Bracknell, who has been a member for a while longer than myself.

The first thing that struck me was how open everything was. The 300 or so people who were there, who included councillors, …

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Clegg: Lib Dem Social Mobility Commission “shatters the idea that Britain in 2009 is a free and fair society”

The Lib Dem website reports that the party’s independent commission on social mobility – set up by Nick Clegg the day after he was elected leader – has published its full report:

The Independent Social Mobility Commission, set up by Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg and chaired by Barnardo’s Chief Executive Martin Narey, has found that a child’s life chances are ‘dependent on the background and earnings of its parents’. The commission’s report also found that increased education funding has failed to reach those children most in need.

The report sets out recommendations for improving the opportunities of disadvantaged children and young people across six key areas: child poverty, early years, education, employment, health and communities.

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