Sit Down Everyone...I bring you good news
The Sunday Times 15 July 2012 (extract)
This, another fashionably self-flagellating opinion, has been most forcefully advocated by the former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, whom the coalition appointed as its "social mobility tsar" (one doesn't much associate tsars with social mobility, but never mind). On the day that Milburn was appointed to his post, he told the BBC's Today programme: "We still live in a country where, invariably, if you're born poor, you die poor."
Last month the Civitas think tank published a report by the professor emeritus of sociology at Sussex University, Peter Saunders, which comprehensively debunked Milburn and others who claim the same. Yet because Saunders's report, Social Mobility Delusions, made the point that things are not nearly as bad as claimed, it attracted almost no media coverage.
Saunders writes: "After I heard this interview [with Milburn], I checked the latest research. It shows that 81% of British men who grew up in families below the poverty line end up in adulthood with incomes above the poverty line. Milburn's suggestion that people who grow up in poverty are 'invariably' destined to remain poor in adulthood is therefore appallingly, irresponsibly wrong. Nevertheless, the comment went unchallenged...and in his latest report he has even repeated the claim."
Saunders's wider point is that despite politicians of all our main parties saying that Britain's social m obility is among the lowest in the western world, accepted international figures show that "the chances of moving into a different class from the one you are born into are better in the UK than in Germany, France or Italy, but less than in Sweden, the US and Australia".
On the vexed issue of educational mobility, Saunders points out that the OECD ranks Britain as 9th out of 30 on the extent to which children's educational attainment is independent of their parents' socioeconomic status. In other words, we are roughly in the middle of international rankings for social mobility, and nowhere near the bottom.