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Stimulating social mobility will take decades

27 January 2010

9:00 AM

27 January 2010

9:00 AM

Another pallid dawn brings more statistics proving that Britain is riven by inequality – ‘from the cradle to the grave’, concludes the Hills report. Unless the offspring of professionals pursue a peculiar urge to be writers or enter Holy Orders, they will bequeath ever greater advantages to their children. For those in converse circumstances, Larkin’s line about inherited misery comes to mind, albeit in a slightly different context.

50 years of unparalleled prosperity, and social mobility has stagnated. Before the wailing and navel gazing begins, it must be asserted that the continued aspirations of the privileged and the fulfilment of their opportunities are not to blame. The root cause of stagnation is a benefit and tax system that reward worklessness and family breakdown, coupled in more recent times with unfettered immigration that saturated the unskilled and low skilled job markets. Widening income inequality and educational attainment, the broken society, the increasing marginalisation of the working classes and the rise of extremism – all have their genus in that analysis.

As a leader in The Times notes, Labour should not have promised that it could reverse 40 year trends overnight or even over the course of a parliament. The Tories have a credible plan to tackle welfare, but they must not mimic Blair’s promises to “give to others by right what I achieved through good fortune” instantly – a sentiment that David Cameron has flirted with. If the Tories adopt David Willetts’ common sense approach, laid out in a book reviewed by Daniel Finkelstein today, the public will understand that poverty and mobility are generational; reversing half a century of polarisation will take decades.


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