Lack of opportunities in local area and access to a good education are seen as biggest barriers to success in life

New polling published today by the Sutton Trust reveals strong public support across the political spectrum for the idea that all young people should have equal opportunities, regardless of background. 9 in 10 agree this is important and the same proportion say it is important to level the playing field and improve social mobility in the UK. 

The survey of over 2,000 adults, conducted by More in Common for the Sutton Trust, reveals that a large majority believe it is the Government’s role to ensure fair access to educational (81%) and job opportunities (69%). When asked why the Government should focus on this, the most commonly chosen reason (79%) was to make the most of everyone’s talents to help the economy grow. 

The polling shows high levels of public support for policies that the Sutton Trust says would improve opportunities for young people and increase social mobility. 87% agree that the government should provide financial support for students while at university and over half (53%) want to see maintenance grants brought back for students from low-income households. At present, student maintenance loans do not cover essential living costs for the majority of students, and those from poorer backgrounds graduate with the biggest debts. 

Likewise, just over half (52%) think access to pre-school or nursery should be free, in the same way that school is. A further third (31%) believe this provision should be paid for but affordable, so that the majority of children can attend. Less than one in ten believe pre-school access is a luxury that should be determined by parents’ ability to pay. As things stand, the vast majority of families in the bottom third of incomes are not eligible for the existing provision of 30 hours state-funded early years provision for three- and four-year-olds, with the Government’s planned expansion to two-year olds set to exacerbate inequalities. 

Overall, the public believes that access to opportunity is currently unequal. 83% say the gap between social classes is either quite big or very big, with 44% believing it is bigger now than 50 years ago. The majority say that children from richer families get better opportunities in school (62%), in pre-school education (59%) at universities (62%) and in jobs (54%), especially professions such as accountancy, law or medicine (61%). Over half (53%) think that – regardless of talent and hard work – some have a better chance of buying a home than others, rising to 64% among 18-24 year olds.  

The public believe the main barriers to succeeding in life are a lack of opportunities where you live (30%), lack of access to good education (29%), a poor work ethic (29%), the state of the UK economy (28%) and lack of self-belief (26%). While the public have strong faith in hard work, with 93% saying it is important in helping you get on in life, 78% also think it is important to know the right people and 68% to come from a wealthy family. 

Three in four people who went to university say that people like them have a good chance of succeeding in life, but only half as many people without GCSEs say the same. Those in Scotland are the most optimistic (73%) about the chances of succeeding in life for people like them, while those in the West Midlands (49%) are the least optimistic. Those who identify themselves as being upper middle class are significantly more optimistic about this than those who are working class (76% vs 56%). 

In a new report published alongside the polling, the Sutton Trust has called for the next government to prioritise policies that will improve opportunities for young people and boost social mobility. Fair opportunity for all sets out a range of costed policies from birth to the workplace. The social mobility charity says that the most urgent priorities should be equalising access to early years education, closing the attainment gap in schools between disadvantaged pupils and their peers and increasing financial support for students, with maintenance grants reintroduced for those from low-income families. 

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust and Founder of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 

“For too long, successive governments have failed to increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income young people. As a result, there is a yawning gap in attainment between the well-off and their less affluent peers, which is the main reason we have low and declining social mobility in this country. The public clearly wants this to change and the next government needs to get on board and make it happen. Otherwise, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen, wasting the talent of so many young people and threatening the country’s future prosperity.” 

Notes to editors: 

  • This research was carried out by More in Common on behalf of the Sutton Trust and comprised quantitative research in the form of a survey of 2,075 adults, conducted between 23rd and 27th February 2024 across a sample of people in England, Scotland and Wales, drawn from a panel of over 2.8 million adults.   
  • Responses were weighted and allocated to be representative of the country’s population based on age, gender, race, voting intention, region, and education level.  
  • More in Common is a member of the British Polling Council and follows its rules on the publication and transparency of polling data. The data tables will be available on More in Common’s website:  

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