Globe, Human Rights, Politics, United Kingdom

Social mobility in the UK: just a myth of an elitist reality?

A study carried out by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has revealed that in the United Kingdom the middle and upper classes create a ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents their children from dropping down the social scale, and serve as a support in guaranteeing their offspring the best paid jobs, regardless of individual talents and effort. The middle and upper classes of the United Kingdom carry on in their social position while poverty increases. 


Araceli Oliva


Inequality is an innate characteristic of the capitalist system but, in contrast with the feudal system, capitalism allows social mobility, meaning that a child born to a poor family is able to become a member of the middle or upper classes, or even a multimillionaire.
Thus the system is meritocratic, meaning it rewards those who work hard, and punishes those who haven’t wanted to work hard enough.

Using this argument, it seems that there is little to object with, given that most people think it is fair to reward those who deserve to be rewarded.

However, when observing reality and studying the statistics, the argument loses its consistency. There is a clear relationship between the social class of parents and the educational and professional achievements of their children.

This reality is even acknowledged by the most conservative factions, who justify it by saying that intelligence is hereditary. What they are trying to say is that wealthier families carry a ‘success gene’.

And society, when it accepts this justification, tends to blame the most disadvantaged for their poverty, which provides an opportunity for the conservative parties: immigrants and the poor become scapegoats.

Voters then back austerity measures that cut benefits for the supposed ‘lazy’ members of society.

But, are the poor really to blame for their poverty?

According to a study conducted by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the socioeconomic level of parents shapes the future educational and professional success of their children. The data was compiled by following the lives of 17,000 British children all born in the same week in 1970.

The study shows that an upper class child with below average cognitive abilities is 35% more likely to occupy a senior role than a working class child with above average cognitive abilities. And there is no evidence that children from wealthy families are any more intelligent that the less privileged.

The difference lies in the fact that wealthier children benefit from the economic and educational level of their parents, which allows them to improve their cognitive abilities during infancy.

The qualities learnt in private schools also have an impact, as they go beyond academic knowledge.

For example, a certain kind of social behaviour or a particular accent is a ‘bonus’ that children who attend these schools acquire, qualities that are also valued and rewarded in the labour market.

As if that weren’t already enough, well-off families are able to use their social connections to guarantee internships and jobs for their children. Women, however, do not benefit from these privileges as much as men do.

Women enjoy fewer possibilities of getting a highly paid job than men – the same is true for all social classes.

Therefore, machismo and elitism come together in a society that prides itself on equality and justice.

In short, the middle and upper classes of the United Kingdom maintain their position while poverty increases.

The government has recognised that this data shines a light on an intolerable reality and has promised to promote measures that will guarantee a greater equality of opportunities. However, David Cameron’s welfare cuts are further impoverishing the most disadvantaged classes while reinforcing elitism.

To tackle this problem, redistributive policies are needed that balance out the inequalities created by the capitalist system. But guaranteeing equality of opportunities is not only fair but also necessary for the creation of a more efficient society – one that does not squander the potential and talent of men and women from disadvantaged families.

Thus, it is not the poor that are to blame for their poverty, but rather the belief in this very affirmation. Justifying poverty and an absence of social mobility only serves to perpetuate a society that is elitist, unjust and inefficient.

(Translated by Jessica Parsons – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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