The British public are becoming increasingly pessimistic about opportunities for social mobility and three quarters believe the current economic recession will limit chances for upward mobility, according to the latest poll from the Sutton Trust.

The survey of over 2,000 adults carried out in July by Ipsos MORI looked at how attitudes had changed since Spring 2008. It found that just 38% of respondents now think that people in the UK have equal opportunities to get ahead, compared to 53% in 2008 – a fall of 15 percentage points.

The study also found a significant decline in the proportion of people who agree that opportunities for social mobility are ‘about right’ (from 50% to 43% in 2009) and a corresponding increase – particularly among poorer groups – of those who think it is ‘too low’ (from 31% to 38%).

The poll coincides with the publication of a number of academic papers which look at how educational policies can help to boost levels of mobility. The papers are the result of a joint summit held last year between the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Sutton Trust.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, commented: “Most people see this country as a land in which wealth and background are more important in determining opportunities in life than talent and hard work. The economic recession has made people more gloomy about their chances of rising up the social ladder which, sadly, confirms academic evidence that levels of mobility in the UK are lower than in many other advanced countries.

No child should be held back because of where and to whom they were born. That means ensuring that the poorest families are supported in the early years, that targeted help and extra resources are given to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools, and that talented youngsters from non-privileged homes are able to access our most prestigious universities and professions.”

The survey also shows that:

  • 70% of the public think that parents’ income plays too big a part in children’s life chances
  • three quarters believe that income differences in the UK are too large
  • more than half (55%) think that it is the Government’s role to address income inequalities

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