Socialist Worker

Millions trapped in poverty as class still divides Britain

Right wing MPs fear falling social mobility could undermine support for the free market system, writes Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2531

Its getting harder for workers on low pay to escape to a higher income

It's getting harder for workers on low pay to escape to a higher income (Pic: Socialist Worker; Flickr/Andrew_Writer)


Free market policies have condemned most people in Britain to worse lives than their parents had, a damning new report has concluded.

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2016 report found “major market failures”.

The commission was established by the government, but its recommendations for change go against every major Tory policy.

The report contains some sobering statistics. More than half the adults in Wales, the North East of England, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands have less than £100 in savings.

Not one child eligible for free school meals in the North East of England leaving school in 2010 went to Oxford or Cambridge university. Just one went from Yorkshire and the Humber.

The expectation that “each generation would be better off than the preceding one is no longer being met”.

Local government workers protest against their modern poverty pay

Local government workers protest against their modern poverty pay (Pic: Guy Smallman)


People born in the 1980s had, by their early 30s, an average net household wealth of £27,000 per adult—barely half the £53,000 of those born in the 1970s.

A “deeply divided school system” means just 5 percent of children eligible for free school meals gain five A grades at GCSE. Poorer children with similar GCSEs to richer ones “are one third more likely to drop out of education at 16”.

New academies and grammar schools risk reinforcing these social divisions. The report praised further education colleges and school sixth forms. Yet the government is cutting funding for both.

The Tory idea that work helps people out of poverty ignores the reality of “millions of low-paid workers”.

The report found that only one in four workers will escape low pay over a ten-year period. “The overwhelming majority—mainly women—are stuck in a low-pay poverty trap.”

The report calls for a “real living wage”. In 40 local authorities a third of all jobs are paid below former chancellor George Osborne’s National Living Wage.

In housing, the “free market approach is failing”, and expensive private renting “has become the norm”, so the government should scrap “outdated inhibitions about intervening”.

Unfortunately the report’s authors—headed by Labour right winger Alan Milburn—want reforms mainly to protect the system. They fear the consequences of political disillusion.

“Whole tracts of Britain feel left behind,” they warned. Of the 65 areas with the poorest education and employment prospects “only three voted to remain in the EU”.

The authors want higher social mobility in order to “prove that modern capitalist economies can create better, fairer and more inclusive societies”.

Instead its decline is underlining that they can’t.


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