Nearly three out of four people (74%) think that income differences in Britain are too large and seven in ten (69%) believe that parents’ income plays too big a part in determining children’s life chances, according to the first survey of attitudes to inequality and social mobility commissioned by the Sutton Trust.

The results from the Ipsos MORI survey of over 2,000 adults are consistent with academic research which has shown that background plays a bigger role in determining educational outcomes in Britain than in many other countries and that levels of social mobility are relatively low. Recent research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies meanwhile has suggested that income inequality is at its highest level since the 1960s (note 1).

The other findings of the survey paint a mixed picture of attitudes to inequality and mobility:

  • 69% of respondents who answered the question believed that they had experienced static or downward mobility, with the household they are in today being relatively worse off—or no better off—than the household they grew up in as a child.
  • Only 10% of those who answered the question and said they grew up in households in the bottom quartile of income reported being in the top quartile in adulthood (note 2).
  • Despite this, just 31% of respondents thought that social mobility in Britain is too low, and one half thought it is “about right”.
  • And, surprisingly, more than half (54%) agreed that people in Britain have equal opportunities to get ahead.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said: “Opportunities in this country remain heavily determined by parental background. A wide range of research places Britain at or near the bottom of the league table of mobility, particularly in terms of the link between children’s educational achievement and parental income.
These findings suggest unease among the public about life opportunities in modern Britain, but that perceptions of mobility and inequality are mixed. The public appear to recognise some of the inequalities in our society, but on the face of it half do not think that Britain is particularly socially immobile. If we are to promote real change, a first step is to recognise that we have a problem and create a consensus on the need for reform.
The Sutton Trust has recently brought together a range of academics, educationalists and policymakers to discuss how to promote mobility through education and to begin to build a way forward. In the Autumn we will propose a number of practical ways forward which we hope will make a real difference to people’s future opportunities.”

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