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Contacts - getting on in life

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Alice Alice | 09:51 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The UK's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says he wants to stop people 'getting on in life' purely because they have good social contacts - because of 'who they know'. Let's talk about social mobility.

Children standing in a line

In Britain we talk about social class - upper, middle and working class. Social class is usually defined by the job somebody does. It's quite complicated because these aren't definite groups in modern Britain. For example, you might work as a teacher and have advanced educational qualifications but consider yourself working class because of your social background. Your parents may have worked in manual jobs. Or you might not work at all but be upper class.

The government says that only seven percent of school children in Britain go to private schools - but they make up more than half of the people in top jobs in professions like law, banking and in the media. There are reports that social mobility is lower than it used to be. It is harder for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve 'their lot in life'.

Nick Clegg the Deputy Prime Minister says he wants to improve social mobiilty so that children from less advantaged backgrounds will be able to get better jobs. For example if a student wants to do a work placement - an internship - at a government department they won't be able to arrange it through personal contacts but will be chosen on ability.

How does social mobility work in your country? Is it more important who you know than your abilities or experience? Does it matter what kind of school you attend as a child?

Here are some words and phrases you might find useful:

advanced educational qualifications - university degrees
manual - jobs done with your hands
private schools - schools where you have to pay fees
disadvantaged - in this case, poorer


  • Comment number 1.

    Monarchy and social class aren't any more existing but there is still implicit classes in our society. "Title" is another name of discrimination in my country. It seems that it's not important where you studied, who your parents are, and so on. You will see most companies put the same catchphrase on their recruitment sites, 'Equal chance, equal environment for everyone.' When the candidate sits for an interview, she/he will be put on different scale as the "Title" of their education background. On the other hand, sometimes there will be no vacancies to the public but open chance to the children of wealthy family. It can be vague in the beginning of the job but the discrimination gets clear for the promotion process.
    Yet, nowadays, thanks to the existence of mediums to express my own voice, there are alternative way to progress as an individual. Trade Union takes a big role. Furthermore, internet bloggers and citizen columnists are out there to raise our voice as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    ya.nice article.super like.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Alice,

    I'm from Italy, a country where is quite difficult "to get on in life" if you don't know somebody... Unfortunetely, we've a political class that efforts this wrong and ancient meccanism (confirmed by latest rumors). This is the complex situation where we live, both in public and private Institutions. Neverthless, I think we have to improve our education background, our working experiences and abilities continuosly, because efforts will be recognized in the future, or I hope so....

    Maddalena (Rome)

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks Alice for your post!
    Actually, the social mobility in my country is very hard, needs a lot of effort just to be improved neither reaching the ideality.

    In Egypt, the same way like Uk, the people who went to private schools are more privileged more than the ones who went to the governmental.

    In my point of view, the chances for high expended education are much bigger than the ordinary education.

    All we can say that we all hope to have an improved governmental eduction, because at the end of the story it is the essential.


  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Alice
    In my country;though all the shildren go to public schools,unfortunatly people can't get a good job if they have not good social contacts even if they have advanced educational qualifications.
    So i think that social mobility works in my country but in the wrong way because of corruption which still spread in most of government departments.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks for all your comments everyone. It seems we all have a lot of the same problems. Do any of your countries have special schemes or strategies to try and make society fairer? For example, do they have quotas for the number of 'poorer' students who can get bursaries to good universities? Have you heard the phrase 'affirmative action'? Do you know what it means?

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Alice
    In algeria, government try to support the poorer students by give them grants but i think there isn't a good strategie to make society fairer.
    Idon't heard the phrase "affirmative action"but when i translate it in arabic i guess it means the actions which take by government for help some groups like women or poor people .

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Alice,
    I saw that I'm not the first to write from Italy and I could only confirm what Maddalena already wrote. I decided, fifteen years ago, to leave the bank where I was working because after the employ, obtained with a public contest, I understood that my career couldn't grow due to the lack of recommendation to my advantage. Now I'm working in the small artisan factory of my family and I'm experiencing that, in all the other country I visited for business, the situation, about that, is better than in my country. The same idea I received visiting Your country. I never heard the term "affirmative action" I could only confirm that our government doesn't think to realize a fairer society because it continue to cut the fund to the public school preferring to increase the importance of the private ones. Closing my presence I could only expreme my appreciation for the opportunity the BBC gave us with this fantastic site to improve the knowledge of english that is very important for the searching of better opportunity in the other countries.
    Marco- Padova-Italy

  • Comment number 9.


    I come from France. And I think that it is in average the same way in all countries.
    It is easier to succeed in life, in job, if you are known,or if your parents have influence or other things like that.
    However, even if my parents can be considered in "middle class" , I believe I can succeed in, by working hard, maybe harder than some people, but I can.

    Furthermore, I think, it is more gratifying, if You are successful because of a lot of work than your name, or your money.

  • Comment number 10.

    It's very interesting to read your comments. It seems the issues are the same wherever we live. Affirmative action is the name of a policy which take factors like race, gender (male or female), religion into account when appointing people for a job or position. So for example, there might be a quota to have a certain number of women in an organisation, or people from ethnic minorities. Or in some cases where there are two equal candidates for a job - one white and one from an ethnic minority in a predominantly white country, the person from an ethnic minority would be appointed to do the job. Do you have any policies like this in your country?

  • Comment number 11.

    Dear Alice! Thanks for giving us a chance to speak on for such a big political issues as from so many years we are facing this statistics and due to this every generation from disadvantaged backgrounds are much effect to an extent.
    As I know that social mobility has arisen very prominently like in UK as compare to my country .In Pakistan you can't find even the name of social mobility or any efforts to encourage such an important issue as there are not even a single scheme nor strategies to try to make society fairer in the future.
    In Pakistan upper class, particularly politician relatives are continuously getting on in their life due to good social contacts of ' who they know’. It’s always been quite complicated here in Pakistan that every generation period could get high post despite having advanced degree education. It’s always been more important 'who you know' than your abilities or experience.
    When I were a knee high to a grasshopper it seems that this was less important to have qualification from private institution as there were not good private institution at that times anyhow social contacts were always been important since independence day.
    However the trend of private institution and status classification has began after 1980s and it has a huge impact on the back bone of our society in good terms as well as in bad sense. Education in government schools are now just for the heck of it and this trend definitely will lead toward more corruption and more dishonesty in our society in getting jobs in near future very soon.
    It seems that there is a quota system but it is not used for poorer class it is only used again for upper class discrimination based on district depending on the availability of seat either by hook or crook rules and regulation. So one of us can’t make it clear is it a flaxen or un-justice.
    I have heard the word affirmative action but as I earlier explain that it is useless for poorer class it is only for the people who they know very well means our Govt and their cherished ones.
    There is nothing to do with ethnic minorities it is just the matter of wealth, social contacts that’s it.
    Doesn’t consider what you are, what your qualification is, does this much important or less , does your education can bring difference to our society , these philosophy has failed in our society as it has no impact no more.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello Alice,

    Thank You for nice article. Social discrimination is not only problem in UK , it all where in the world .In my country we always have to face this social mobility. It is made bigger problem at the job field . Who has money, power , political strength he/she can achieve job, status etc. It is become bigger specially at Government job .If no one have money or political power he can not get the job although he is the best student in my country. Experience or education is no matter in front of the power and money .

    Now-a-days it becomes worse. People thought has changed . Everyone is running behind money and power etc One of my friends who passed graduation recently was looking for government job for taking bribe .Their tendency to achieve these anyway, it may be achieved by dishonestly or kill other one else. It is not a big deal to follow the wrong way. For these situation our corrupted politicians are responsible. It is very difficult to revive us from this situation. But I hope , once we will win.

  • Comment number 13.

    I have been working in Spain for almost 10 years now as an English teacher and I have found that social mobility has been in the past a major obsticle for many of my students. Due to the opening of borders, travel and the internet. Minds have changed and are changing at the moment. In the local university to get a job their all you needed was to know the right people. Now there are more procedures and rules which dont allow this to happen.


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