There is a “stark gap” between the life chances of the poorest and the better-off in Britain, the Government will admit today, as it publishes alarming research that reveals how wide that gulf is.
The study, to be unveiled by Nick Clegg, shows that:
l One child in five is on free school meals, but only one in 100 Oxbridge entrants is.
l Only 7 per cent of children attend private schools, but these schools provide 70 per cent of High Court judges and 54 per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives.
l One in five children from poorer homes achieves five good GCSEs, compared with three out of four from affluent homes.
In response to the findings, Mr Clegg will take a political gamble by publishing new benchmarks so the public can track whether the Government is delivering its pledge to improve social mobility. Ministers admit they are making a rod for their own backs.
In a speech to the Sutton Trust, Mr Clegg will admit that the Coalition “cannot afford” to leave a legacy like the current position. “Morally, economically, socially: whatever your justification, the price is too high to pay. We must create a more dynamic society. One where what matters most is the person you become, not the person you were born,” he will say.
The strategy document will admit: “No one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by the circumstances of their birth. What ought to count is how hard you work and the skills and talents you possess, not the school you went to or the jobs your parents did.
“The UK is still a long way from achieving this ideal. Income and social class background have a significant impact on a child’s future life chances and there have been few signs of improvement in recent decades.”
The Deputy Prime Minister, educated at the private Westminster School and Cambridge University, will insist he is the right person to champion social mobility. “I was lucky. But it should not be a question of luck. It is my strongest political conviction that if we have a chance to change the way our society works, if we have a chance to open up success to all, we must seize it,” he will say.
Mr Clegg will dismiss “the myth that the promotion of social mobility means lowering standards, or somehow dumbing down, to socially engineer a particular outcome. This is nonsense … which is usually peddled by those who benefit from the status quo – and therefore want to keep things the way they are.”
The Liberal Democrat leader will insist the problem can be tackled in an age of austerity and reject the idea that the solution is to redistribute income. Other factors include the education system, the housing market and possibly social attitudes, Mr Clegg will argue, so the Coalition is focusing on closing educational attainment gaps and improving early years education.
He will announce that the Government will be the first in the world to publish 17 annual “trackers” including:
l The proportion of children on free school meals achieving grades A* to C in English and maths at GCSE.
l Participation by 18- to 24-year-olds in full-time education by social background.
l The proportion of children achieving at least grades AAB at A-level by types of school or college attended.
But Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, warned the Government could not improve social mobility without tackling inequality. He said: “If you are born poor in a more equal society like Finland, Norway or Denmark then you have a better chance of moving into a good job than if you are born poor in the United States. If you want the American Dream – go to Finland. This isn’t surprising. It’s harder to climb the ladder when the rungs are further apart.”
A Church of England charity described England as one of the most unequal countries in the Western world as research showed an “alarming disparity” between the richest and poorest neighbourhoods. Nine out of 10 of the poorest communities – five of them in Liverpool – are in the North-west of England with the 10th in Middlesbrough in the North-east, the Church Urban Fund discovered.
Only two of the top 10 least-deprived communities are in the North of England – Wheldrake, York, and Alderley Edge, Cheshire, with Camberley Heatherside, Surrey, heading the list of the least-deprived.
Published by the Independent - TUESDAY 22 MAY 2012 See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/born-poor-stay-poor-the-scandal-of-social-immobility-7771336.html