Etan Smallman features CEO Lee Elliot Major’s new book ‘Social mobility and it’s enemies’ in an article for the I.
“It’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going.” As the grandson of a baronet and a direct descendant of King William IV, David Cameron was keen to promote the idea of a classless society with this statement to the Conservative Party conference in 2012.
Before she walked into Downing Street for the first time to become Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May told things differently. She listed a catalogue of “burning injustices”, chief among them that if you are poor, your life chances – and even your life expectancy – are blighted. The public agrees with May more than Cameron.
Less than a third of the population believe that everyone in this country has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and hard work will take them, according to one of the statistics in a new book. But the book, Social Mobility and its Enemies, could be seen as an indictment on both Tory leaders, along with their predecessors.
Movement up and down the ladder has frozen It looks at how movement up – and down – the economic and social ladder of life has frozen. It tries to unpick why, apart from the US, Britain has the stickiest socioeconomic rungs in the Western world. But it also asks us to look at ourselves.
A key paragraph in the final chapter levels the charge: “We must also concede that we too are sometimes part of the problem,” it reads. “Have we ever stepped over the line – stretching the truth to ensure that our son or daughter gets that coveted school place, displacing an equally deserving child from a family ill-equipped to compete in this education zero-sum game? Difficult as it is to stomach, we too are enemies of social mobility if we believe our own offspring should somehow be exempt from being downwardly mobile.”
The foes are not just the out-of-touch politicians, the exploitative employers and the rampant economic inequality. They are also you and me. One of the authors is Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, the foundation focused on improving social mobility through education. But even he admits he has friends who have moved house to get into a leading state school.