A good article in the Guardian yesterday – by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level.
They argue that despite the UK government saying that tackling social mobility as its guiding purpose, the fact that “tackling the financial deficit is the coalition’s most immediate task” is undermining that supposed goal.
Social mobility shows a strong tendency to be higher in societies with smaller income differences between rich and poor.
[…] Observations from sociology and psychology help explain how inequality of income increases inequalities of opportunity. Downward prejudices (or, more simply, snobbery and discrimination) flourish in hierarchical societies. Material differences increase social distances. The elites have the “right” schools and ways of speaking, cultural markers of status. The more hierarchical a society, the more obvious differences in status, and the more likely these are to attract downward prejudice and stigma. Lacking these cultural markers of status increases the obstacles to social mobility. Young people from less well-off backgrounds risk losing out on opportunities for better higher education and jobs.
In addition, experiments show how recognition of social differences diminishes performance among those who are made to feel at a social disadvantage. […]
The Right speak of aiming for equality of opportunity to justify the wide inequality of outcome. This gives the lie to that aim: inequality of income causes an inequality of opportunity.
Obama sees it “Gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America:” the American Dream, where everyone can make it if the try, is ever more false.
But back to Pickett and Wilkinson:
This is not simply a matter of justice or fairness for individuals. The country as a whole would benefit from increasing social mobility. When people are excluded from opportunities because of their background, their talent is wasted. Because so many politicians, judges, CEOs and senior people in business and the civil service have similar backgrounds, our institutions are more at risk of being out of touch with the majority, geared primarily to the needs and interests of people at the top of the income distribution.
[T]he austerity measures now being implemented mean that in the coming years the social ladder will be steeper and the rungs further apart. It is hard to see how the government’s “immediate task” will do anything other than undermine its “guiding purpose” in the absence of bold initiatives to tackle social inequality not only at the bottom, but also at the top.
Austerity is reducing the opportunities for social mobility, for reducing income inequality, for a fair society. The increased class sizes, the removal of Adult and Community Education, the removal of Training Allowances, the removal of State Houses from more expensive suburbs and new subdivisions, and many more things National are doing in the name of “austerity” are undermining our society.
It’s a well-argued opinion piece against a different Tory government’s policies, but the arguments hold here too. Worth a read.