Political Promise

Nick Clegg: Talking about social mobility

In Garry Lee on August 22, 2010 at 11:20 am

By Garry Lee

The term social mobility is delightfully ambiguous. Clegg’s promise to aid the mobility of the classes is as open-ended as they come. Yes, Britain does have poor social mobility, and an improvement in social mobility is desirable; but in the face of a long overdue review in university fees and child benefits, is there anything to celebrate about? Or is this just another empty promise?

The term social mobility is delightfully ambiguous. Clegg’s promise to aid the mobility of the classes is as open-ended as they come. Yes, Britain does have poor social mobility, and an improvement in social mobility is desirable; but in the face of a long overdue review in university fees and child benefits, is there anything to celebrate about? Or is this just another empty promise?

According to one study, the amount of interest shown by a parent in their child’s education is four times more important than socio-economic background in explaining education outcomes at age 16” said Clegg during his 100th day speech on Wednesday morning. Surely if anything, this is support for further investment into child benefits to allow parents on low incomes the necessary time to nurture the potential in their children. Arguing that parents have a responsibility to properly raise our next generation and then taking away their means to do so is not only counterproductive, it’s crazy. While the final review of the child benefit won’t be announced until October, substantial cuts to the £4.3 billion benefit are likely.

Fairness means everyone having the chance to do well, irrespective of their beginnings. In other words, fairness means social mobility” said Clegg. This is only true to a certain extent, as surely, this increase in social mobility also focuses on improving the life chances of those born into the middle-class as well (i.e. the people who don’t need as much help). David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science recently said that the Student Loans Company model for paying university fees was “out of date” and that while he did not want to comment on the outcome of the imminent, independent review into student finance by Lord Browne, tuition fees were “unsustainable” for universities at their current level. 

While an increase in the cost of university fees, which the Conservative government has little to no opposition to, would be the same increase in cost for everyone, it would be ridiculous to suggest that this rise would affect every class in the same way. Student debt is already a huge burden for working-class students, and scholarships are few and far between. In the Sutton Trust’s study on student debt, they found that 80% of 11-16 year olds interviewed expected to go into higher education; this figure dropped to 68% when tuition fees were increased to £5,000, 45% at £7,000 and 26% when tuition fees reached £10,000 a year. The Chairman of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl argued that whatever the outcome of Lord Browne’s review, “we must make sure it is not those from poorer homes, already underrepresented in higher education, who miss out most”.

The introduction of the Pupil Premium, which Clegg described as being “explicitly designed to channel greater investment to the children and schools who need it most”, is a start in improving the life chances of the underprivileged. Although, what use is a better start in life if the government plans to erect a glass ceiling at the other end? I’m not convinced.

Nick Clegg’s 100th day in office speech was certainly well crafted with references to scientific studies, and to his own personal experiences, but I remain doubtful as to whether a Coalition like this one can provide the fairer society for all.

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