For the love of sweet God, can everybody please shut up about wanting to improve social mobility? Whenever I turn on the radio or the TV there is some politician – either Conservative or Labour – banging on about how this or that policy must be implemented because it will ‘improve social mobility.’
When did the electorate say it was the government’s business to ‘improve social mobility?” I never remember getting the memo on that one. And once again the fact that there is a left-right consensus on it should instantly set off alarm bells. The only argument is over the evidence and whether a certain policy is, in fact, good for social mobility and not whether this should be a legitimate governmental aim in the first place. The truth is governmental improvement of social mobility is the new socialism.
Social mobility for the politician is like enjoying a quickie for ordinary folk – they just cannot get enough of it. Saying a policy is good for social mobility automatically means we should implement it – only a monster would oppose it. Wanting to improve social mobility means you are on the side of the poor children, therefore any crazy policy that seeks to do this should be approved.
The Conservative Party, for instance, have pinned their entire grammar school policy on the argument that it will‘improve social mobility’ for poor children. They could have said lifting the ban on grammar schools is right because having a governmental ban on schools that select by ability is totalitarian and illiberal.
They could have said having more grammar schools will improve educational excellence and/or will increase parental choice. But, no. Instead pretty much every headline is about how grammar schools will ‘improve social mobility.’ So the argument becomes about evidence and not principle. But that is the Conservatives for you – always bringing a penknife to the gunfight.
It seems to me that if a country has an excellent education system (which may or may not include selection by ability) that improved social mobility will come naturally as poor bright kids will do well. It will be a foreseeable side effect of such an education system – but it is not its aim. The aim is to provide an excellent education for all according to their ability.
The truth is ‘improving social mobility’ is the new excuse for the central planners and bureaucrats, aided and abetted of course by the ‘experts’ and bean counters, to centralise power back to the State and away from families and civil society. Maybe we will need a five-year plan to speed up social mobility or perhaps a great leap forward is necessary. Who knows? But I can tell you who does know – why it is the folks at the Social Mobility Commission. Yes such a body does exist!
Our comrades at the Social Mobility Commission tell us that, “The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England. The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions.” Of course it is. And I bet they have lots of nice Excel spreadsheets there too.
Here are their responsibilities:
- publishing an annual report setting out our views on the progress made towards improving social mobility in the United Kingdom;
- promoting social mobility in England, for example, by challenging employers, the professions, universities and schools to play their part in promoting social mobility;
- carrying out and publishing research in relation to social mobility;
- providing advice to ministers (at their request) on how to improve social mobility in England – this advice must then be published.
Who are the busy little bees at this body? The Chair is the Rt Hon Alan Milburn and the deputy chair is Baroness Gillian Shephard. But then you probably already knew that.
If we focus, just for a moment, on point two we can see how our busy little bees would like to meddle with employers, professions, universities and schools no less to play their part in ‘promoting social mobility.’
I do not know yet what happens if these people refuse to play their part and instead focus on their job of employing people and turning a profit, being a professional heart surgeon, educating children and further educating students. Perhaps they get sent to the re-education camp. It’s not clear.
Finally, while I have you, there was in fact a social mobility conference on the 30 March, where all the busy bees got together to ponder, ‘the causes and consequences of declining social mobility in Britain.’
Do you know how many busy bees were there? Two hundred! And they were all there “to increase understanding, share knowledge and explore new solutions to one of the greatest challenges facing our country today.” I don’t have a problem with the increasing understanding and sharing knowledge stuff, but I do have a problem with the solution bit. Because I know – I just know – it will involve State meddling.
Over to Alan,
Tinkering with change will not turn it around. A new and far bigger national effort will be needed if progress is to be made on reducing poverty and improving mobility. That will mean long-term and fundamental reforms to our country’s education system and local economies and in the labour and housing markets.
Fundamental reforms to not just the education system but 1) local economies 2) the labour market and 3) the housing market! Bloody heck – is there anything left? How many billions of pounds are circulating in those markets alone and Central-Planner Alan wants fundamental (governmental) reform to them all.
I am just beside myself with excitement to see what form of State control this will be. The ever-bigger power grab can always be justified on the grounds that it will improve social mobility. By the time Alan is finished reforming, controlling entry to grammar schools will be considered small fry indeed.
(Image: Kurt Bauschardt)