The latest report from Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility Commission continues to misunderstand why social mobility rates have largely halted. It proposes several ‘educational’ solutions from extending school sixth form opportunities (nobody would disagree with this) to forcing schools in low-performing local authorities to take part in improvement programmes so that Ofsted targets can be met (there is no mention of the need for more grammar schools!)
But rates of social mobility largely reflect wider economic inequalities rather than overturning them. The relatively high rates of upward mobility in the post-war years coincided with the growth of ‘middle’ managerial and professional occupations during this period which required recruitment from below – an increase in absolute mobility.
Contrary to the arguments in this report that there will be a shortage of workers to fill 15 million more highly skilled jobs by 2022, any growth of managerial and professional jobs has been far outpaced by the increases in levels of education – around 1 in 4 people under 35 now having university degrees – and the huge growth in the number of people who can perform them.
With such a large surplus of graduates, rather than moving up, large numbers now fear being pushed down as further increases in the power of digital and robotic technology mean that fewer still will likely to progress to employment commensurable with their qualifications.
Milburn’s report does on the other hand includes some hard data about the extent of inequality in the UK and this alone makes it a useful contribution