It’s clear that there is a growing anxiety about elites in the UK. The politics of Brexit has often been seen as a popular vote against the London ‘elite’, picking up on widespread popular concern in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. There is also a growing sensitivity to London’s role as a major international site for international elites.
But are the UK’s elites getting further removed from the rest of the population? This report by Katharina Hecht, Daniel McArthur, Mike Savage and Sam Friedman from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), uses a number of datasets covering 40 years of census data, to assess whether the UK’s elites are pulling away from the rest of the population, not just economically but also socially, in terms of their attitudes and cultural distinctiveness, and geographically, in terms of where they live.
The proportion of socially mobile people who have never moved long distance.
The men in professional jobs who are highly socially mobile.
The proportion of those who move to London to access elite jobs who are already advantaged.
- Absolute social mobility into elite occupations has declined. 1 in 5 men in professional occupations who were born between 1955-1961 became socially mobile, but the figure for those born between 1975-1981 is only 1 in 8.
- Two thirds of the most socially mobile people built their careers close to home, rather than moving away. Though this group are more likely to come from London.
- In contrast, those brought up with a privileged class background were much more likely to have moved long-distance; a majority have moved long-distance at least once (65%).
- London is difficult to access for people from working class backgrounds outside the capital, with those from an already privileged background more likely to move to the capital for work.
- Economic elites are aware of their increasing advantage, though are likely to see themselves as upper middle class rather than upper class. They are likely to justify their position through beliefs in meritocracy. However, such meritocratic views are also largely endorsed by the wider population.
- Economic elites do not have distinctive cultural or lifestyle practices, and although they are somewhat more likely to engage in high-brow cultural activities, this is far from overwhelming.
- Unpaid internships should be banned, with internships longer than 4 weeks paid at least the minimum wage.
- More degree and higher-level apprenticeships should be available as an alternative to university, with a focus on ensuring people from low-income backgrounds from all parts of the country can access them.
- School admissions should be fairer, with priority given to those entitled to pupil premium to reduce social segregation.
- State schools should be incentivised to develop essential life skills, such as building confidence, motivation, self-control and public speaking skills, both in and out of the classroom with dedicated time allocated to it in the curriculum.