Many of us are familiar with the American dream and for those who are not I would say that at the heart of the concept is social mobility, which is defined as the movement of groups or individuals in and between social positions or classes i.e. from working class to middle class or middle class to upper class. The American dream places an emphasis on the opportunity for prosperity, success and growth in spite of the circumstances faced at birth and in spite of race or creed. Now the question I wish to pose to you all is where is the British equivalent?
This article has been inspired by the recent comments made by John Major and David Cameron and whilst it deliberately focuses on the working class the overarching theme, social mobility, remains significant across every class.
Former British Prime Minister John Major expounded on the subject of social mobility,
“In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class… To me, from my background, I find that truly shocking. Our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born… We need them to fly as high as their luck, their ability and their sheer hard graft can actually take them. And it isn’t going to happen magically.”
Interestingly enough David Cameron, who hails from a privileged background, has agreed with Major in stating that there is “not as much social mobility as there needs to be”. He went on to say that within Britain, “no matter where you come from, what god you worship, the colour of your skin, what community you belong to”, people should be able to “get to the top” in the media, judiciary, armed services and politics”.
Major and Cameron offer their concern over the direction that social mobility has taken within Britain and I also have my doubts. However, It would be erroneous of me to suggest that social mobility does not exist at all because that would be a huge offence to many within Britain who have
managed to advance beyond circumstances that had previously locked them in and prohibited them from moving between social classes. The sheer fact that such individuals could develop and succeed is a testament to the reality of social mobility.
On the other hand, the fact that 60% of British people claim to be working class in a survey carried out by think tank British Future in their State of a nation report, does imply that social mobility is not necessarily real to the working class. If the working class, the class who are seen to gain the most from social mobility do not recognize it as a feasible route out of the circumstances that lock them in, then how far can we say that social mobility exists within the British structure?
I would argue that social mobility has become a wind ideal, like the wind it exists but is not seen. In other words, it exists but its validity is somewhat tarnished if the working class do not view it as a way out and so this corroborates what Cameron said earlier, there is” not as much social mobility as there needs to be.” Social mobility needs to be as plain as the nose on your face and whether the education system or even society is properly enforcing the notion that social progression can be achieved in spite of your comprehensive education is questionable.
We can trace the dearth in social mobility to society but one cannot begin to change societal attitudes without first educating the masses and so I am of the opinion that social mobility needs to be stitched into the curriculum. There is no disputing the fact that we are raising a generation that can read and write and perhaps the literacy rates have soared over the years and this is a testament to the investment in education but are we nurturing the psyche of young minds from more humble backgrounds to think of themselves as leaders in every capacity, whether it be in the media, judiciary, armed services and politics? Are we raising the bar on behalf of the working class?
Undeniably social mobility is a hugely compounded term as it encompasses issues such as race, gender, education or the lack of, location and is obviously very dependent on the individual. Those who oppose the argument that social mobility is a myth would definitely draw attention to the fact that it does largely rest on individual ability. They would suggest that reviewing and amending the education system, by stitching the concept of social mobility into the curriculum, as I earlier recommended, would actually have little or no effect if the individuals lack intellectual ability. They argue that intellectual ability is widely overlooked in the social mobility debate whilst the problem of poor education is overly emphasised. Whilst they do raise an important point, there is no denying that we need an exceptional education system to nurture, enhance, develop and push students’ innate abilities.
Some would argue rather staunchly that the myth of social mobility is a redundant debate from the past because British governments have made significant investments in education that have worked, thus help to defy the argument that social mobility is an invalid term. Danny Dorling, a social geographer corroborated such views in his book “Fair play” (2011). The book revealed that the number of working class students in higher education, during Labour’s final term, increased at a much faster pace than those from middle class backgrounds, proving that social mobility is valid. Still,
the increase in university fees put forward by the coalition does nothing to promote the view that governments are trying to increase social mobility. For instance, the increase in fees is believed to dissuade students, most especially those from working class backgrounds from attaining degrees, which would ease the movement between social classes.
In light of this, it is quite clear that social mobility is somewhat mythical; however my cynicism should not be taken to mean that social mobility does not occur.
Still, the truth is there are people who will never cease to be working class and perhaps these individuals have become so comfortable in their situations that they are blind to the opportunities that are capable of changing their situations. However, I am suggesting that social mobility has to
be more than another vague term that is thrown during an election campaign to lure the working class; it actually has to consistently work for the working class.
Love Cris x
p.s progress is a process.