31 Oct 2019
A lack of social mobility makes disadvantaged people struggle throughout life.
The lack of social mobility in the UK means that people who are born into disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to get on in life, despite being talented or bright. It’s no surprise that privately educated people dominate the top jobs: 65% of senior judges, 52% of Foreign Office diplomats and 44% of newspaper columnists went to fee-paying schools, compared with just 7% of the general population.
Even where people from working class backgrounds enter professional occupations, they still earn on average 17% less than their more privileged colleagues.
The difficulty to get on in life that poorer, working class people experience can contribute to the UK’s lack of productivity. We have one of the lowest productivity rates amongst developed countries and one in five people are stuck in low-paid jobs. Since the global recession of the last decade, wages have stagnated and the divide between rich and poor has widened. Whereas the wealthiest 20% of households saw their income increase by £300 a week in the last 10 years, the bottom 20% saw just a £10 rise.
There’s also a huge geographical divide. London and other cities in the south are moving ahead while other parts of England are falling behind. Output per person in London is over £43,000 compared to less than £19,000 per person in the North East of England. In London, almost two thirds of the population are graduates, compared to about one third in the North East.
Two thirds of Boris Johnson’s current cabinet went to private school compared with less than 7% of the wider population. The last Labour government was no better. Half of Clement Attlee’s 1945 Labour cabinet had a blue collar background, while Tony Blair’s front bench team had just one person.
Geodemographic analysis has shown that a family’s postcode is a strong indicator of how well children will do in education and later life. This can often be strongly linked to school catchment areas where even in seemingly affluent towns, children in areas with a high concentration of social housing, find themselves out of the catchment areas of the best schools. Where a person lives can be a much better determinant of their future success than social class or other personal factors.
Other important barriers still exist which prevent working class people from improving themselves. The cost and lack of availability of nursery education gives children of wealthier parents a better start in life. And those who can afford private education often go on to attend the highest-profile universities. People who recruit into the top jobs can still tend to give priority to Oxbridge and Russell Group graduates despite the increasing success from newer universities such as Nottingham Trent, Lincoln and Derby.
Legal & General sees overcoming the lack of social mobility as one of our highest-priority corporate responsibility issues. Inequality between rich and poor has grown to such an extent that it could begin to threaten social cohesion, law and order and democracy.
Our school education programmes aim to help children with financial literacy. Our Every Day Money and RedSTART programmes help teachers and children alike to understand the basics of finance: how to earn, spend and save money.
We are strong supporters of the government’s Apprentice scheme. Apprenticeships can be attractive to people who may be looking for an alternative to going to university, those looking to retrain, and those returning to work after a break. We offer many different apprenticeship programmes, including software development, business administration, project managers and management.
However we believe that we can make the biggest difference by improving the quality of life and opportunities for people in the cities and towns of Britain. In Newcastle, for example, we have a £350 million investment in Helix Science Central, creating over 4,000 jobs, 500,000 square feet of office and research space, and 450 new homes. This joint initiative with the local council and the university recognises the need to reduce geographical inequalities and invest in the north of England.
We also want to help overcome the lack of quality housing stock in the UK, both to buy and to rent. Throughout the UK, we have build-to-rent housing schemes to help people who are not in a position to buy their own home. In 2019 in Croydon, we worked with the local council to provide affordable and social housing for local residents. Our £44.6 million investment provides much-needed stability for local families and residents, many of whom have been living in emergency accommodation.
We appreciate that there is a political debate over the importance of improving social mobility for talented disadvantaged people and whether the priority should be to remove all inequalities in society. However as we move forward to a possible general election, it’s important to remember that for many people, Brexit won't be the main issue. Lack of productive jobs, low wages and poor housing options can be much more important.