Why Social Mobility is the problem of our generation

My Dad does some work for a local school, and this Christmas was no exception. He was invited into the plain, square staff room in the middle of advent and noticed a couple of dozen small white envelopes, carefully folded and clipped to the fake Christmas tree.

“We used to do a secret Santa with the children, but the teachers can’t afford it anymore”, explained the Head Teacher. “Instead, we’ve asked children from the most disadvantaged families what they would like Santa to bring them. Anyone can help themselves now, without pressure or expectation.”

Dad took two:

“For Christmas, I want...anything

“For Christmas, I want…a warm jumper

He just stood there in silence. He fought back the tears.

If a child can’t even stay warm, how are they supposed to learn, thrive and to contribute to society? That’s what social mobility is all about.


Last week, we discussed whether charities are a waste of time. We saw that they all do good work, but that some are more cost effective and have more impact than others. But that assumes that you’re giving to have most impact. However, a lot of people have a pet cause. A cause that motivates them and that they devote most of their giving energy to, and that’s absolutely ok! In fact, if it motivates you to do more, then it’s better than ok really!

So in the spirit of “sharing is caring”, here’s mine: Social Mobility.

“The measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members”

- Gandhi

Close, but not quite Mahatma. For me, the measure of a civilisation is more how it provides opportunities for its weakest/most disadvantaged members. Less pithy, but there’s an important distinction. Treating someone implies a one-way giving from ‘civilisation’. Think of a nurse treating a patient; he gives care and the patient takes it. Maybe it’s because I was brought up by two fundamentalist Tories (This blog isn’t just a clichéd rebellion, I promise!), but I don’t believe that, en masse, that message is viable, sustainable, or in the best interest of the ‘weakest’ or any section of society.

Social mobility isn’t about socialism and handouts, but ensuring equal opportunities. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re male or female, what colour your skin is, or where you were born. A society will only reach its full potential when it can pull on the widest pool of talent, and that necessitates a mobile society.


What is Social Mobility?

Social mobility is defined as the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between layers or tiers in an open system of social stratification. (Wiki)


Why is Social Mobility Important?

So why do I think that this is the most important cause in the UK at the moment? Well let’s look at the four factors that make a cause important:

  • The scale of the problemhow many people are effected?
  • The degree of the problemhow bad is the problem?
  • The urgency of the problemhow quickly will this begin to effect people?

I may have made those three measures up just now, but they make sense, don’t they?

  • Like the old Trolley Problem, it makes logical sense to help a million destitute people over a single person, who’s experiencing the same level of pain and punishment.
  • Male-Pattern Baldness is an affliction that effects 38% of 50 year olds (100% of my family…just feel sorry for my Mum!) but would you give to the Anti-Male-Pattern Baldness Foundation over Unicef, who’s promising to keep a Syrian refugee baby warm for just £3?
  • This is harder to provide an example for because there are so many other factors, but consider Climate Change. It’s been called “the greatest problem of our generation”. It will affect every single person, animal and living organism on the planet, and people will die from a warmth of more than 2 degrees, yet there seems to be a distinct lack of urgency, especially in giving. We can’t see the problem (yet), so it’s easier to pretend that it just isn’t there.

So what does that mean for social mobility?

First of all, a lack of social mobility effects everyone, no matter what your background, upbringing or access to opportunities. It’s been proven time and again, that the more diverse an organisation or economy, the better it performs. If you’re disadvantaged for being black, or a woman, or from Scotland, then your economy won’t succeed. And since 2008, we all know that a floundering economy effects every one of us in some way. This will only become even more apparent in the future as industry 4.0 comes into fruition. Our ‘western’ economy will be based on the success of our ideas and education, and we will need every single one of our population to be contributing.

Are you a feminist? Then you support social mobility.

Are you anti-racism? Then you support social mobility.

Are you worried about the refugee crisis? Then you support social mobility.

Do you own a business? Then you support social mobility.

Do you have children or young relatives? Then you support social mobility.

Do you believe that rehabilitated criminals deserve another chance to contribute? Then you support social mobility.

Everyone should support social mobility.


How bad is the problem and urgent is it? You only have to ask the Social Mobility Commission or read their latest report:

"Britain has a deep social mobility problem. In this annual report we present compelling new evidence that for this generation of young people in particular, it is getting worse not better. Low levels of social mobility are impeding the progress of not only the poorest in our society. We identify four fundamental barriers that are holding back a whole tranche of low- and middle-income families and communities in England: an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an imbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market."

But people are dying in Africa? What makes a British life worth more than a Somali?

Nothing, and people are dying here too.

"Compared with the most deprived areas, [the number of years of good health] for those living in the least deprived areas were higher by 16.7 years for males and 16.8 years for females." (ONS)

"The suicide rate among young women in the most deprived areas of Scotland is six times greater than in the most affluent areas" (BMJ)

Figure shows that being from the most deprived parts of the UK means that you are nearly three times as likely to be in poor health (ONS).


The lack of social mobility in this country is alarming. It effects every single one of us, and people’s lives are at risk because of it.


Something has to be done, but what?

  • Donate: The Social Mobility Foundation does brilliant work with tangible outcomes.
  • Individuals: social mobility is an issue about children and the weakest members of our society. Get involved by mentoring, becoming a school governor or lobbying your MP for real change.
  • Companies: what does you company do to give back to their local community? This should be an easy sell because diversity is so palpably beneficial for any firm. Have a look at the work that BITC do; encourage mentoring and other outreach programmes.
  • Government: social mobility crosses party lines and political wings. Those at the bottom of the pile are destined to poorer quality of life, which is prime left-wing territory, whilst a lack of opportunities means that people aren’t incentivised to work, which leads to typical right-wing concerns. At the very least, consider the 10 recommendations laid out in the Social Mobility Commission’s report last year.


If we can fix Social Mobility, everybody benefits. This is a problem in the UK, in every developed country and around the whole world. It effects everybody and people are dying and struggling as a result. For that to happen in our country is a disgrace and yet it is truly fixable. That’s why social mobility is my main issue and one that I’m determined to support.

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