Social mobility prospects remain bleak, academic warns

The prospects for improving social mobility for future generations remain bleak, an author of a key social study released a decade ago will warn.

Stephen Machin, professor of economics and research director at the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), will say today that an “ever-escalating educational arms race” has meant the middle classes have continued to find new ways to retain the upper-hand.

Prof Machin was one of the authors of a seminal study in 2005, which concluded that social mobility in Britain, alongside the United States, was lower than any other developed country. The study, supported by the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, warned that many young people would remain stuck where their parents were if improvements were not made.

Ten years on, Professor Machin will highlight evidence that shows mobility is falling back as it has become increasingly difficult for young people, whose parents were not homeowners, to gain a foot on the housing ladder.

In a seminar at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) today, Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl will join the academic to explore the way in which wealthier parents are able to retain an advantage for their children by investing in more and more resources. These include buying private tuition, houses near to top-performing schools and cultural enrichment activities.

Sir Peter believes the solution could lie with teacher recruitment and alterations to the schools admissions process. He will say: “We need to think radically about how to break the UK’s cycle of low social mobility. We need to find ways to attract and develop the best teachers to help those pupils most in need of support and look at ways to ensure that admissions to the best schools aren’t limited to those who can afford to live close by.

“We must build better access to our top universities and ensure internships are paid and advertised. Otherwise, the prospects for improved social mobility will remain bleak for future generations.”

Professor Machin will say: “The UK’s low level of social mobility is not just a problem for those from poor families; it’s a problem for the economy too. The large number of young people who are not able to reach their full potential is a tragic waste of talent with a significant economic cost that will have implications for the future.”

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