Is the Social Mobility Myth Dead?
Is where you end up on the social ladder down to how talented you are and how hard you work?
This myth continues to dominate our politics, despite all available evidence showing its total and utter nonsense.
That’s why it is right to welcome the new report by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which examines how economic advantages are transferred from parents to their children.
Their research shows that people in their 30s with the richest parents are on average six times richer than those with the poorest parents.
Worryingly, IFS found that young adults' wealth is more closely connected to their parents' wealth than their earnings are connected to their parents' earnings.
Young adults with the richest parents are almost three times as likely to be in the wealthiest quintile. Whereas young adults with the highest earning parents are on average 2.7% higher in the earnings distribution.
They put this down to several factors, including direct wealth transfers from parents to children, the significantly higher rate of home ownership amongst those with wealthier parents and the fact that those with wealthier parents hold a larger share of their wealth in high return financial investments like stocks and shares.
They also found that those with richer parents have higher levels of education. We already know that educational opportunities are a significant driver of future wealth. This creates a cycle of inequality.
The overall picture is one in which economic wealth and privilege is largely dependent on birth. If you’re born into wealth it's highly likely you will be wealthy for the rest of your life. Whereas if you don’t have rich parents, it’s extremely difficult to attain high levels of wealth.
Or as the Director of the IFS has put it, ‘If you want to be wealthy you really do need wealthy parents.’
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Social Mobility Commission found in 2019 that social mobility in the UK had been ‘virtually stagnant’ since 2014. As a result they stated that inequality in the UK ‘is now entrenched from birth to work.’
In my Hemsworth Constituency, we have one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the country. The Social Mobility Index shows we are the 4th least socially mobile area. This means no matter how bright and talented you are, if you were born poor in my constituency you are highly likely to die poor too.
So it is time we reject the myth of meritocracy - the idea that if you work hard and are talented you should rise to the top.
How well, or badly, people do in life is still based on class, not on talent or effort. This has to change.
Here is one of the conclusions of the Social Mobility Commission: “Tinkering with change will not do the trick. A new level of effort will be needed to tackle the phenomenon of left-behind Britain.”
That is why we need bold ideas based on equality, not reheated rhetoric about the myth of meritocracy.