Great expectations dimmed by social mobility report

Thumb_penny-marshall

This may be the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, one of the greatest observers of social advantage and disadvantage, but many of the issues he wrote about haven't gone away: excess, unfairness, access, snobbery, poverty and power.

Modern concern about Britain's lack of social mobility has been heightened by the global financial crisis and subsequent economic turmoil.

Few any longer can afford to take their current or future financial security for granted. And the excesses of the few who can, have added to the sense of unfairness for those who cant.

Judges queue to enter the annual judges' service at Westminster Palace in London Credit: Chris Young/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Today's report, written by the Government's advisor on social mobility Alan Milburn, looks at access to the professions including medicine, politics, the civil service and law. It warns:

A new consensus has begun to emerge that unearned wealth for a few at the top, stagnating incomes for those in the middle and deepening disadvantage for many at the bottom is not a sustainable social proposition.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, himself born into privilege, is committed to what he calls fairness in Britain today. But today's report, whilst recognising his good intentions, isn't impressed with his achievements on this issue to date.

For too long, Alan Milburn warns, the professions have been a closed shop for the less well-off, the less well-connected, and the less well-educated. Cycles of advantage and disadvantage continue uninterrupted down the generations.

People look at job listings at the Careers and Jobs Live careers fair at the ExCeL centre in London, April 2009 Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Mr Milburn takes a close look at those who enter the professions, all of which remain dominated by privately-educated white men.

The civil service and the law get some points for at least starting to look for change; journalism and in particular medicine get none.

The medical profession is singled out for lacking social mobility Credit: Hugh Macknight/PA Wire

Journalism is singled out for its use of interns as unpaid labour - a privilege only the wealthy can afford. Internships at some leading publications have been auctioned, literally in some cases, to the highest bidder at private school fairs.

Politics too, argues Mr Milburn, is too white, too posh and too privileged: 59% of the cabinet today are privately educated.

The journalism sector exploits unpaid labour, according to the report Credit: Lewis Stickley/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The result is that those like Dickens' Pip in Great Expectations, who don't want their birth to dictate their destiny, still struggle.

The financial crisis didn't just expose the economic deficit in Britain, but the opportunity deficit too. And in its aftermath, there is a new danger.

Those born poor who don't want to stay that way may look at those born privileged with more envy, less admiration and respect, and quite probably no deference at all. And as they are the ones still running the country, that can't be good for any of us.