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Big nudge, no cash

Mark Easton | 13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Not so much a policy, as a giant nudge. That, perhaps, sums up the ambition of the government's social mobility strategy [2.82MB PDF] published today.

Ministers' power to make a difference is diminishing: they are no longer in the business of trying to improve matters with imposed targets or new regulation, pulling levers in Whitehall. Now it is all about encouraging and urging people to change the way they behave. Oh, and by the way, there is no money.

The principles laid out in the document ("we take a long-term view...we will take a progressive approach...we will adopt a ruthlessly evidence-based approach") also include the admission that "Government does not have all the answers." Well no, they don't. And the next paragraph explains why they might currently have rather fewer answers than before.

"We cannot get away from the intense fiscal pressures we face as a country. Failing to reduce the deficit would saddle future generations with enduring public debt and slower growth, threatening social mobility. That creates challenges. We must do more with less. Above all, we must do more to promote a fairer society."

The strategy neatly sets out the challenge. It is much harder for poorer children to make it in Britain than other comparable countries.

Graph showing the relationship between incomes of parents and their children

Indeed, the report says British women are right at the "bottom of the range" in terms of social mobility.

Graph showing rates of occupational mobility

There is recognition of the need for a real focus on what the report calls the "Foundation Years" - from conception to primary school. The strategy accepts that poorer children turning up for their first day of state education have already fallen behind their peers.

Graph showing children from higher income backgrounds do significantly better on a range of early years outcomes

But when one looks at the proposals for those early years, it is clear this is not a government that wants to force change itself, but rather wants to encourage others. (The word "encourage" incidentally appears more than 20 times in the strategy document.)

So in responding to the recommendations from Graham Allen MP that more be done to help mothers from poorer backgrounds the government says:

"We agree that a broad-based alliance of interested groups, charities, employers and foundations would be best placed to take this forward..."

A ministerial determination to encourage localism means that, while the principle of early intervention is supported by a grant of more than £2bn a year to authorities in England, the money is not ring-fenced.

Local authorities facing cuts to their overall budgets can use the cash "to respond to local needs". The result is that in some areas, Sure Start centres are closing - even though today's report says the government is "supporting...the national network".

The much-vaunted scheme to get organisations to open up internships and work experience to those whose parents are not in a position to "have a word with someone else at the golf club or the tennis club" is all about "urging employers" to do the right thing, not passing legislation or imposing regulation.

Existing government commitments to recruit 4,200 new health visitors in England, expand the apprenticeships programme, introduce the pupil premium, offer the opportunity for longer paternity leave are listed by the government as "policy highlights" of the strategy.

But critics argue that such measures do not amount to the kind of long-term, progressive investment that will be needed to make a real difference. And in the context of cuts and the introduction of higher tuition fees in English universities, opponents of the coalition suggest the strategy is dead in the water.

In the end, it is a strategy - not a policy document or a set of spending commitments. With its indicators and rhetoric, it is designed to shape the thinking of Whitehall departments, local government and wider society. It is a nudge. But is a powerful nudge enough?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    “Successful people have learnt the 8 skills needed to identify and overcome the difficulties they meet and achieve happiness” – this is the outcome from extensive research throughout the world over the last 60 years, in areas as widespread as sport, music, books, film, science and business and the recent Government reports illustrate how important the factors are (especially parents and schools) in developing them.
    Social mobility aims to provide more people (the poorest in particular) with the opportunity to learn these skills.
    1. Effective Learning Skills - We need to learn to survive but unless we develop our ability to learn throughout our life the continually changing situations and difficulties in the 21st century will destroy/defeat us.
    2. Communication skills – concentration, verbal skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing), non-verbal skills (visual gestures, body language, touch)
    3. Cognitive (thinking) skills - analytical and conceptual (systemic) thinking
    4. Self-awareness
    5. Managing Feelings
    6. Motivation
    7. Empathy
    8. Social skills
    Therefore if our society and children are to be really helped eeryone (especially parents, schools, public services and the media) needs to become aware that this should become our main priority for our children and be helped in ensuring our children have the opportunity to learn these 8 skills.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am always at a loss to understand how government and agencies define social mobility.

    Indeed if I look at a quote from the strategy mentioned in Mark's article

    25% of children from poor backgrounds fail
    to meet the expected attainment level at the
    end of primary school, compared to 3% from
    affluent backgrounds

    I am left with the obvious concern that the expected attainment must have been set in some manner and what was the setting based on? Did someone define the expected attainment level to get the quoted figures to fit ? It is all too woolly as political speak always is.

    My personal view on the subject as a whole is that social mobility will always be better in times of economic growth, and needs long term objectives as dealing with future parents can help forge the correct attitudes for future childrens' social and educational outcomes.

  • Comment number 3.

    Mark,

    It is just waffle, rhetoric and spin...

    Considering the tories were caught auctioning off internships to the highest bidder at a £400 per head fundraiser - I doubt they really want to see equality and fairness. Especially if it means they can no longer buy privelidge and influence.

    I also notice the tories in Scotland believe some children should be encouraged to leave school at 14....How many of the front bench will be encouraging their own children to drop out of school at this age?

    If we really want to see all children given the same opportunities in life we need to either scrap private fee-paying schools and/or 100% inheritance tax.

  • Comment number 4.

    Almost entirely an exercise in wishful thinking. If the government is serious about social mobility (tolerating that there is a meaningful distinction from inequality) then it has to focus on primary education and all the associated support implications. The signs are that education will not prosper under the Coalition and at best would hold its own. Forcing single mothers into full time low paid work will not help mobility. Cuts in social services and the police will create additional difficulties for people bringing up children in difficult areas. Teachers burdened by absurd paperwork demands will not be able to deliver the compensating advantages that poor children need to compete with their middle class peers. Otherwise a great strategy!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Nick Clegg has launched the government’s social mobility strategy by saying he wants to stop people getting on in life purely because they know the same sort of people as the members of the cabinet."
    http://newsthump.com/2011/04/05/clegg-wages-war-on-reason-he-has-a-job/

  • Comment number 6.

    #3

    'Privilege'

  • Comment number 7.

    Ok...what about Parliamentary Interns?

    These are a high profile internships that both Nick Clegg and George Osbourne enjoyed. Lowly paid or unpaid positions that move young people into positions of influence and expose them to opportunities otherwise not available.

    I would hope that these are open to all, but they are not. Not due to a "boys club" but due to the costs of taking on a unpaid role in Central London is not an option for those whose parents are not financially solvent.

    I work hard to provide my children with every opportunity, I would hope that gave them an advantage as they go into the world. If it doesn't then I am going to look like a fool when they have to queue for opportunities with everyone else. I may as well leave work on time, ofr a change, and spend some time with them instead.


  • Comment number 8.

    What you are seeing is something which educators and politicians in the US are well familiar with.
    Middle-class and affluent parents want their adult children to enjoy a life-style equivalent to or better than the one they grew up in and they recognize the importance of education or trades apprenticeships in achieving that goal. They are willing to make personal and financial sacrifices so their children will lead a better life.
    In the US the 4th generation of families that have never had anyone with gainful employment is coming of age. These children are growing up in families that have all of their basic and personal needs met by some form of public assistance and are leading a life that is "good enough". Their parents aren't pushing them to move up the social ladder because there is no benefit in advancing a few rungs; in fact there is a disadvantage because now you are working and paying for a life which is only a little better than the one you were getting for free.

  • Comment number 9.

    This is very strange.

    How can the ConDem central government have a national strategy for social(ist) engineering?

    I thought they told us that everything was going to be decided locally in future? No more big government, no more top down orders from whitehall.

    Or is 'localism' only to apply when there is something the central government doesn't want to take responsibility for?

  • Comment number 10.

    Sit in any urban McDonald's and listen to the incomprehensible 'English' spoken around you by secondary school children. There is no greater barrier to life than the inability to communicate effectively. Children from these poorer communities can't speak and are growing up in what passes for a family where education is simply not valued at all. This is not a problem in Asian communities where education is highly valued. You can take a horse to water.....

  • Comment number 11.

    'It is much harder for poorer children to make it in Britain than other comparable countries'

    Is it ? Or is it just that poor children in this country are less inclined to make an effort to impove their lot. Or indeed that poor parents are less inclined to help their children secure a better life. I'm pretty sure this is the main reason rather than government policy.

  • Comment number 12.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am grateful to Mr David Cameron, who, I am led to believe, is an important person in UK politics, for the answers to the problem of funding social issues. He says "we need to tax the rich, and they should not avoid tax and be more socially spirited. I understand Mr Cameron experienced his conversion en route between London and Pakistan although the precise details have not been revealed to me.

    I understand Mr Cameron was seen wearing a red tie today. I have been unable to confirm if he was really heard singing the Red Flag or shouting "Tories Out". I have also been unable to confirm that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has left Westminster for an extended stay in the Priory.

  • Comment number 14.

    Just bring back selected educations - Grammar Schools. What we need is equality of opportunity, give everyone the chance to take an 11+ and get to grammar school. It won't be background, parents' income or any other factor that chooses the school - It becomes a meritocracy. Children from deprived backgrounds with aptitude will be able to learn in an atmosphere of wanting to learn.

    The greatest poverty that a lot of children have is not the amount of cash to hand in the family - it's poverty of aspiration

  • Comment number 15.

    Please can my children go to Eton and become members of the Bullingtons? I have not enought money to pay the fees, I want them to become M.Ps or maybe run a big council

  • Comment number 16.

    "Indeed, the report says British women are right at the "bottom of the range" in terms of social mobility."

    But the sample looked at there is quite small, and, it seems to me, so is the variation. Reading from the graphs, as best I can, I make out that British women are 10% below the mean (the men appear to be 5% below the mean). It doesn't seem like an awful lot to make such a fuss about...

  • Comment number 17.

    It is certainly hard to anticipate much progress with the Coalition's rather vacuous strategy. That said, New Labour's extensive social policy tinkerings were patently unsuccesful. But then New Labour always missed (or chose to dodge) a fundamental point, social mobility and equality of opportunitly cannot be legislated into existence, as a society we have to want it, and I don't think we do. Particularly since Thatcher the tenor of our society, has been one of competition, fear, and self-righteousness on the part of the middle classes. Not so much a noble meritocratic nation, as a grubby, get ahead, I'm all right jack mediocrity. Can't see the lib-cons changing that, or wanting to.

  • Comment number 18.

    After decades of steadily increasing government spending, it is understandably difficult to imagine how any important goal can be achieved without more spending. Is it not the case, however, that social mobility was greater during the 1950s and 1960s, when our society was much poorer than it is now and there was far less money available for government programs?

    Should we not focus on how to achieve more with the same amount of funding, or (horror of horrors) with even less funding? If increased social mobility genuinely does require more funding, could we possibly reduce the amounts spent on sporting activities or school trips, to enable monies to be spent on the mobility issues?

  • Comment number 19.

    This report appears to be biased towards the "only by spending money" can we solve things arguement, despite a over a decade of record spending while social mobility was reduced. So much about what we achieve in life is about our expectations, goals and how hard we are willing to work.

    The kind of intervention needed is not the type of thing designed to keep loads of "third sector" people employed - its schemes like volunteering to mentor kids, that costs the taxpayer next to nothing and does I believe has a real real impact.

  • Comment number 20.

    "Ministers' power to make a difference is diminishing:" I don't truely believe its changed at all, it never was in their hands to start with more than it is now. See my previous comment!

  • Comment number 21.

    What a laugh, both Cameron & Clegg are only where they are now because of their contacts and that goes for most of the MP's/civil servants etc etc in our SO CALLED Democratic state.
    The only thing these people do is try and kid us we live in a democracy and now Clegg has the nerve to raise the meritocracy issue to try and make him seem different than he is.
    Bunch of con artists.

  • Comment number 22.

    Love the idea that not offering work experience, or more lately internships, through social contacts will change anything. This type of quasi-nepotism was already uncomfortable for those in the position to offer it & times have moved on.
    By offering long unpaid internships you immediately remove the chance of anyone from a poorer background being able to take up these positions but at the same time can be regarded as being an equal opportunity employer.
    Companies signing up to this initiative get to take credit for being socially responsible whilst getting free work from those who stand very little chance of real employment with the companies they help support.
    Until internships are made to be paid at least minimum wage there is no hope that the cream of our talent will always rise to the top & lets face it we really need that to happen if we are to retain any semblance of international relevance.

  • Comment number 23.

    Mark - yet another anti-Coalition, pro Labour blog. You basically dismiss the document as a nudge with no money.

    But did Labour actually achieve better mobility during their 13 years and vast amounts of money? The evidence says not. Did Labour's legislation and regulation make the blindest bit of difference, other than loading everyone and everything up with costs to monitor so-called 'compliance'? Don't think so. Yet where is your context about where we're coming from, what has happened? The fact is poor historic results under Labour have forced a re-think. It may not work, but we know that what went before certainly didn't.

    Actually, Labour did the worst on social mobility: they dumbed down education to flatter their statistics, so giving middle class children who stuck to solid academic subjects a vast headstart even over brighter poor kids who could otherwise have shone.

    Equally, Labour's attitude that underachievement by poorer kids was not their fault, but rather society's transferred the whole ethos of taking responsibility and self improvement into 'it's not my fault, so it's not up to me. Life is unfair and so whatever I do, I can't win. The only way out is for the government to help me.'

    Apart from being a self centred self pitying load of old rubbish, this approach is more guaranteed than anything to entrench underachievement. Poor kids need to be told the facts: it's a tough world, but if you're good and you work hard, you can get there.

    Labour's cotton wool harmed and destroyed ambition far more than anything this 'nudge' will do.

    Even if it doesn't work, after 13 years of failure, isn't another strategy worth a try?

    And please, take off your Labour 'new think' blinkers.

    And yes, I come from a poor background.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hasn't the increase in wealth of the top couple of percent, at the expense of everybody else, over the past 25 years got something to do with this?

    As the only careers that are guaranteed to bring in a decent income these days are in finance, I suggest they teach only finance related subjects, such as hedge fund management and banking. Sciences and engineering are only leading to high skilled but mediocre paid work that gets outsourced sooner or later.

    Seriously, the lack of education in everything from the most basic finance to high-finance at secondary school is a glaring omission these days. Or maybe they like it that way. After all, there has to be somebody doing something for the lowest pay possible for the parasites to suck their millions out every year.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think Clegg is just trying to find a role for himself, as he is dwarfed by Cameron. It may be nothing more than window dressing and a display of his lib dem credentials.

    Life is and never has been fair, and no amount of Cleggs attempt, and vain attempt at that, to replace reality with fantasy will not change anything.

    The under achievers are an essential part of the social equation as set out on Huxley's Brave New World.

  • Comment number 27.

    There is no point in blaming one political party or another,it must be fairly obvious that the main reason for the differences referred to is parent attitude towards schooling and the will to better themselves.
    I wonder how many parents of so called poorer families go out of their way to actively encourage their children in school,not very many and I am sure that those who do are the parents of those from lower backgrounds that do succeed.

  • Comment number 28.

    #23 - 'But did Labour actually achieve better mobility during their 13 years and vast amounts of money? The evidence says not.'

    Actually you're wrong.

    'Young people from disadvantaged areas are substantially more likely to enter higher education since the mid-2000s'

    http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_03/

  • Comment number 29.

    "...the opportunity for longer paternity leave are listed by the government as "policy highlights" of the strategy"

    Really? That would be the new rules that came in this week? The same ones that all SME's are exept from for the next 3 years as a result of the Budget announcements?

    This isn't the first time that one side (Lib Dem) of the Coalition has promised one thing, and the other side (Cons) has managed, either on purpose or by ineptitude, to undo it in one fell swoop. NHS? Tuition fees? Local Government reform?

  • Comment number 30.

    With no money put where Clegg's big mouth is, it would appear that the era of spin continues unabated. This simply looks like a sorry attempt to grab headlines.

    If there is a serious desire to do something, why not even start with a small gesture - remove charitable status from private schools and plough the money from this into the state sector. Even if this gives additional opportunity to 1000 kids from less well off backgrounds its worth it.

    Nothing against private schools if people want to spend their money to send their kids there, but I just dont think we should be funding it in any way as taxpayers when the state system still needs a lot of our help.

  • Comment number 31.

    19. At 17:05pm on 5th Apr 2011, Lee wrote:
    This report appears to be biased towards the "only by spending money" can we solve things arguement, despite a over a decade of record spending while social mobility was reduced. So much about what we achieve in life is about our expectations, goals and how hard we are willing to work.

    The kind of intervention needed is not the type of thing designed to keep loads of "third sector" people employed - its schemes like volunteering to mentor kids, that costs the taxpayer next to nothing and does I believe has a real real impact.

    ==============================

    Things which can be done by governments take much longer than 10 years to happen in a sustainable fashion. The decline in social mobility probably had nothing to do with the Labour government.

    Much is made that it is about the early years education , not falling behind due to social or parental negligence or lack of vision which defines how social mobility will play out. We won't know if any of the last governments spending or plans (e.g. sure start) have a genuine lasting effect on social mobility for a decade or more yet. The most likely benefit will be from Sure Start where the first beneficiaries have just about started secondary school - whether they succeed or have mobility provided by that won't be known until they start working. EMA appears to have shown benefits in education for poorer students, that is proven, to what extent this carries forward into social mobility will again not be known fully for some time.

    The conditions which defined whether I could benefit from social mobility were defined in the 1960s before I was even born. My parents had opportunities which they grabbed by their hard work and scrimped to afford a house in an area with excellent schools - it seems to have worked. I was the first to go to university from our family and have a professional career as a result, something had we remained in the traditional home area would have been far less likely.

    The decline in social mobility evidencing in the last decade likely stems from some of the prior decades governments policy effects i.e. the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.

  • Comment number 32.

    Great to read that the strategy is taking note of recent research and is focusing on the period before children start school. It is shocking that thousands of children have already been consigned to a life of failure by the age of 3 by incompetent and selfish parents.

    It is just a shame that our political masters have not taken their reasoning to its logical conclusion.

    The simplest way to vastly improve the overall outcomes would be for the most incompetent and selfish parents not to have children in the first place.

    Unfortunately, actively encouraging some members of society not to have children goes further than most politicians are prepared to countenance. Even the complementary approach of encouraging other members of society to have more children is unlikely to gain traction.

  • Comment number 33.

    Mark,

    Less social mobility than other countries, eh?

    Mightn't it be a clue that even they learn to speak English better as a second language than many of the so-called 'most disadvantaged' bother to here?

    There's also a correlation between IQ and earnings: I read it in the Guardian so it must be true.

  • Comment number 34.

    Quality education + affordable and accessible social activities create an environment for upward mobility.
    Reduce class sizes.
    Reinvent streamed education for those who wish to learn.
    Make social activities affordable to all.
    Make social activities accessible to all.
    Award grants to poorer, high achievers to access high quality social activities and high quality extra learning opportunities.
    Create closer ties with private and select educational establishments to enable access to higher quality resources.
    Use social activities as motivators for reluctant learners.
    Fund high quality cinema and theatre opportunities for all students.

    Have a zero tolerance policy for disruptive students as they often intimidate those who wish to learn.
    Make it policy to remove all disruptive students from high achieving classes.
    Support teachers by employing extra staff to work in classes with disruptive students and give those teachers regular professional emotional support. Use CCTV and on call services to quickly and efficiently isolate disruptive students.
    Supply basic equipment to classes as many children do not have such things.
    Absolutely no mobile phones and ipods in classrooms as they enable a culture of intimidation and collective disobedience.

    Upward mobility comes with a huge price tag. Many social activities are out of reach of poorer students because of these factors:
    cost of activity
    access to transport
    cost of equipment
    ability to get to and from all events

    Social activities create the conditions for upward mobility, because it is through these activities, friendships are made with those from a variety of other 'classes.'

  • Comment number 35.

    23 Blunt Jeremy

    I totally agree. To get on in life children need aspirations, good role models and the ability to work hard and strive for goals. Unfortunately we have had 13 years of the Labour nanny state which has in fact, probably unintentionally, had the opposite effect of what it was trying to achieve. There is no easy path to success. Any successful person will tell you that it often comes at a price, mistakes are made along the way but you learn from them. Making life too easy does not do anyone any favours,whether rich or poor. Bring back competitive sports, stop dumbing down educational thresholds and let our young people fight for success. The truly brilliant ones will succeed with the right encouragement.

  • Comment number 36.

    I agree with the earlier points about the value of streamed education and Grammar Schools - with all kids regardless of social or economic background getting the chance to get the most academic education - see it as a primer for university for kids who are lucky enough to have the brains to benefit from it (intelligence is normally distributed - i.e. not all kids are highly intelligent - only 16% of kids have intellectual ability higher than one standard deviation above the mean). I'd go further and abolish private schools and religious schools - education should be free for all, and provided in such as a way as to encourage the strengths of all children.

    There is also a need to combat the 'anti-swot' culture in secondary schools however. It may have always been present to a degree but is now quite widespread and is a powerful anti-achievement force within schools. Perhaps one way of addressing this is to offer tangible, desirable, and more immediate rewards for academic achievement, along the lines that some schools have for rewards for civic responsibility or good behaviour. If a kid's cleverness and achievement can benefit her/his whole class (e.g. by a day out, chance of winning ipads for all, etc) it might be seen as less 'nerdy' to be clever.

    It may be true that it takes a very long time for govt policy to work its way through into the lives of children and young people, but a lot of damage can be done quickly (e.g. by making their parents redundant). I'm pretty sure as a society we can come up with better ways of encouraging high aspirations and providing good education if we have the will to do it.

    Nuff said

  • Comment number 37.

    So kids from higher achieving, therfore higher earning, highly motivated almost certainly on average more intelligent parents, equiped with parenting skills and who are probably creating a climate of self disapline and stability in home life do better!

    Well so what, wow what an insight?

    Get Mr Clegg and the other liberal fantasists in this government to focus on the standards of the rest and the awful schools my Tax money is wasted proving for them.

    When will we call failure what it is, FAILURE and face reality that the concept of 'Deprivation' is a PC cop out from facing up to the circle of low standards and low attainment in this country.

    Basically rubbish parents

    There will always be an elite and most of the bleaters and handwringers around 'equality' are there already, in the NEW AGE ELITE or networking like crazy to 'join em'.

    Hey look at the BBC with it's dynastic and personality based culture.

    And check out the 'who you know' concept in the Public Sector - like the family and friend connections in the NHS for example; spend some BBC, eh my money investigating that!

    Why do Liberals hate achievers and love the indolent?

  • Comment number 38.

    Ban the use of mobile phones while in charge of a pushchair.

  • Comment number 39.

    I was brought up for the first five years of my life in a terraced house in a midlands town with no indoor bathroom. My father was unemployed for long periods in the '80s and holidays were a rarity. I went to the local comprehensive school where a disruptive minority element did their best to sabotage many lessons; still, I went through the sixth form and was the only person from my year to go to university (this was the early to mid 80s when student grants still existed, and far fewer people went to university).

    Now I live in a reaosnably sized house in the south east with a job that pays what I consider to be a good salary. I'm lucky in that I have managed to 'move up' the ladder and earn far more than my parents might ever have dreamed of.

    But with student fees and rocketing house prices I somehow doubt I would have the same opportunities if I was leaving school today.

    I don't know what the answers are but personal ambition must play a big part - many of my school friends left at 16 to work in local factories just because they wanted to earn some money now.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think no 37 is pretty near the mark. To read Mark Easton, you'd think the poor were awash with budding Einsteins who had just had a bit of bad luck. Not so. In the main there is a bit of Darwinian evolution at work - survival of the fittest, or in this case the aspirational, hard working, dedicated, intelligent tend to do better and what on earth is wrong with that?
    But I'm inclined to agree that the 'who you know, not what you know' effect is a barrier to genuinely capable but poor children reaching their potential, and no-pay internships should be banned as they are extremely discriminatory.
    I don't think Labour actually wants social mobility. 13 years of throwing borrowed money at everything (obviously Easton's solution) produced little - so what's wrong with a 'nudge'? In their Orwellian world of newspeak Labour only want the political/controlling class to be protected. Listening to wimmin's supporter Harriet Harman talking about social mobility (remembering she sent her kids to private school) is the sort of thing that gives hypocricy a bad name.

  • Comment number 41.

    If the BBC enables social mobility and is truly meritocratic then can someone explain why attractive young women make up such a disproportionate percentage of the weather forecasters?
    Do they really represent the cream of broadcasting meteorology talent I wonder?

  • Comment number 42.

    Here is the majestic Stefan Collini writing in the Guardian, Monday 23 August 2010, 'Social mobility: the playing field fallacy':

    "But it is in its handling of its central category of social mobility that this feelgood discourse most tellingly reveals its ideological character. The category has become a difficult one to use with any precision. In different settings, it is now deployed to refer to one (or more) of the following three things:
    1. The trajectory of individuals in the course of their lifetime away from a starting-point defined by their parents' socioeconomic position.
    2. The changing patterns of advantage and disadvantage between social groups in comparison to the patterns among the previous generation.
    3. The changing structure of employment or prosperity across society such that a larger proportion of the population come to be in "higher" occupations."

    You can follow his thoughts further in a related and subscription free essay he has written in the London Review of Books entitled 'Blahspeak'.

    'Nudge' economics, of course, is a term which is trying - very, very hard - to vulgarise 'behavioural economics'. It's deeply ironic that the man who predicted the dotcom bubble in 1999 and the housing bubble in 2004 (which both then burst with increasing levels of ferocity) the wonderful behavioural economist Robert Shiller of Yale, was ignored in the run-up to both crises, and, as his solution to the current economic difficulties are New Keynesian, can be ignored further by ever-wise politicians. I wonder if they will ever think about why the 1976 IMF crisis needed less borrowing than the current crisis since October 2008, and yet the borrowing rate on that government debt is lower in real terms than in 1976 when there was a bondholder strike? It appears not. Do they not know of US 1937 or Japan 1997? It's been amazing that the trouble the cohesion states in the Eurozone with their fixed exchange rates havehad with their need to borrow since 2010 been mistaken for the UK in a liquidity trap with a floating exchange rate.

    So, in summary, the people need to be cleverer to know that they need to be cleverer. Nice work...

  • Comment number 43.

    jacko wrote:
    "I think no 37 is pretty near the mark. To read Mark Easton, you'd think the poor were awash with budding Einsteins who had just had a bit of bad luck. Not so. In the main there is a bit of Darwinian evolution at work - survival of the fittest, or in this case the aspirational, hard working, dedicated, intelligent tend to do better and what on earth is wrong with that?"


    I'm afraid you are one of the many people who have completely misunderstood Darwinian evolution and its affects on society, you are actually verging into Eugenics with this line of thinking and there is a vast wealth of research available that proves you wrong.

    The poor are not poor because they are less intelligent and there is no established link between intelligence and wealth anywhere in the world, there is however a very well established link between your parent’s wealth and your future success as an adult and in the UK this link is much stronger than in many other countries.

    I have taught in private and state schools and I can tell you that some of the children I taught at the private school were as thick as two short planks, lazy & complacent but because their parents were rich and well connected they still ended up getting a place at one of the countries best universities while many amazingly talented, hard working and dedicated children I taught in comprehensives couldn't even get an interview.

    I have also lost count of the number of highly intelligent children I taught who ended up dropping out of the education system to take up unskilled work because their family circumstances prevented them from continuing their studies, often through no fault of their own and despite the fact that they had the skills, work ethic and desire to better themselves and to go on to much better things in life.

  • Comment number 44.

    Not so much a policy, as a giant nudge...to where?
    It's not about encouraging and urging people to change the way they behave; it's about monied plutocracy - rule by the rich for the rich. It's who you know; it's who you know and how much money they have and what position they hold.
    What is a "ruthlessly evidence-based approach"?
    As for this statement: "We cannot get away from the intense fiscal pressures we face as a country."
    Well, yes you can.
    The Coalition Goverment must be willing to challenge the huge investment banks, split retail from investment, and apply a meaningful Financial Activities Tax (which could be spent to even out the playing floor). Until the huge investment banks are seriously challenged, society will continue to be "haves" and "have nots" i.e. those who do as they please - frequently to the detriment of society, and those who aspire to change things, but don't have the money.
    This is what The Coalition Government can do to free-up small and medium-sixed businesses, create jobs, sponsor apprenticeships, and itself invest in social programs: split retail banking and investment banking.
    Indeed, the report says British women are right at the "bottom of the range" in terms of social mobility.
    So?
    What will The Coalition Government do to change this?
    The problem suggests, does it not, the need for training, mentoring and money (There's that lack of borrowing again that can only be made safe only by splitting off retail banking from investment banking. Can you see women being succesful within Britain's current banking system, or losing their shirts?)
    I agree there is the need for a real focus on what the report calls the "Foundation Years" - from conception to primary school. Yes, poorer children turn up for their first day of state education behind their peers, but after that all children are sold short. They are not taught how to think for themselves, ask questions, question everything, debate...they are taught how to memorize, and even what they memorize is often wrong, like Columbus discoverd America. Much of the curriculum needs changing to form little minds into independent, creative thinking brains.
    Now comes the Government's throw back onto society: "We agree that a broad-based alliance of interested groups, charities, employers and foundations would be best placed to take this forward..."
    Wrong!
    We need to challenge the banks, split retail/investment banking to make lending safe for the little people who are trying to start up. What good are charities that are already hat-in-hand (Sure Start centres are closing, remember - even though today's report says the government is "supporting the national network".). You will have to explain to me what "foundations" means before I agree to that. Does it have something to do with that "grant" of MONEY that is not ring-fenced?
    Who controls the purse-strings on that? Who audits? Who assesses?
    In short, The Coalition Government appears helter-skelter; take a shotgun and you will surely hit something!
    If this has been designed to shape the thinking of Whitehall, it's not even coordinated enough to cause me to think. It's nothing. It's wind...and all I feel is draught.

  • Comment number 45.

    28. At 20:37pm on 5th Apr 2011, mirkle wrote:

    #23 - 'But did Labour actually achieve better mobility during their 13 years and vast amounts of money? The evidence says not.'

    Actually you're wrong.

    'Young people from disadvantaged areas are substantially more likely to enter higher education since the mid-2000s'

    http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_03/

    ---------------

    I don't buy this for a second. You don't improve anyone's social mobility like this if the same government at the time insisted on sending everyone and their dog to university, thus raising the bar. all you have in that situation is a load of people from disadvantaged backgrounds with qualifications that are worth less than before because more people have them.

  • Comment number 46.

    Bluesberry at 44 puts the matter very succinctly.

    I too think the idea of sending all the world and his dog to university was absolute folly; and the beginning of the end of excellence for our universities. Even my contemporaries, 40 years ago, were leaving with excellent BAs and yet finding no work: the Lord alone knows just how bad it is now.

    The other thing about internships and social mobility that I can't get my head
    around is, if internships are unpaid (as I gather they are), do you not need a certain degree of affluence in your background to take one up in the first place? For example, parents who can support you while you learn your trade as an unpaid shadow (or even menial)? It makes no sense.

    As for the 'no fees up front' university plans, many poorer students will be put off by contemplation of the level of debt; and many, many more will never earn enough to pay off their debts anyway - especially in a climate where salaries are either stagnating or actually being cut. It will take a long time to build society up again to a level where this policy might represent a small degree of realism.

    Policies snatched out of the air, and thought through badly if at all: unfortunately, that's what we seem stuck with for now.

  • Comment number 47.

    Middle class parents will always do what is necessary to secure their children's future. If the government is serious about removing the advantages of children from privileged backgrounds, it will have to do what Lenin did and have firing squads working round the clock to eradicate the "Kulaks". However, even this drastic policy enjoyed only a short lived success, as a new class of Party bosses replaced the old aristocracy and bourgeoisie. In the battle of social engineering against human nature, my money is on the latter.

  • Comment number 48.

    Talkling of Big nudges and no money left will Easton be turning Northen with the bbc as it migrates to sunny Manchester? Or as a Home editor will you still have a base in London, only thought about that before and i dont suppose many have..

  • Comment number 49.

    CAN YOU REDUCE THE DEFICIT WITHOUT EXTERNAL INVESTMENT?
    The UK has slipped (almost imperceptively) from #2 to #4 as an investment destination. What's more, according to John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, this #4 ranking may yet slip further downwards.
    I tend to agree with this.
    The United Kingdom (to me, an external party) appears like a stumbling/bumbling entity without clear direction; something needs to be done and done soon about the taxation confusion, the red-tapish uncertainty in The Coalition Government, as well as that huge disadvantaged skill set.
    Look at your watches, folks: Time is not on your side.
    The United Kingdom’s foreign investment figures were down in 2009 to $46B (2007 = $186B). It appears that the UK must reinvent itself, and this will take imagination, climbing out of the box - which I am not sure The Coalition Government can do. It's not a matter of nudge; it's a matter of nudging where.

 

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