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BBC Radio 5 Live 05.04.11

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Social mobility - BBC 5 Live Interview, 5 April 2011

In April 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the government's new 'social mobility strategy.' It was backed by the publication of the fourth government report on social mobility in four years, and like the previous three, this one claimed Britain has a serious problem that the government intends to sort out.

But the 'problem' is being hugely exaggerated. Half the population is in a different social class from the one it was born into. Both major national cohort studies (following people born in 1958 and 1970) show more working class children move out of the manual working class than stay in it, and a third or more of children born to professional-managerial parents fail to get similar positions themselves. Talent and hard work are the main drivers of educational and occupational success, not a privileged background. Unfortunately, neither David Cameron (ex Eton) nor Nick Clegg (ex Westminster) seem to believe it.

Alan Milburn, who has been appointed to oversee the new social mobility strategy, is even more ill-informed. In 2009, he described Britain as 'a closed shop society', and when the new strategy was launched on April 5th this year, he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that, 'Invariably, if you're born poor, you die poor.' For the record, the National Child Development Study found that only 19% of people born to parents below the poverty line end up in poverty themselves. 81% escape poverty. Comments like Milburn's demotivate our children - if the government's 'social mobility Tsar' says there is no chance of escaping poor beginnings, then what's the point in even trying? His comment was disgraceful, but unfortunately, comments like this are made too often by leading politicians and commentators.

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Five Live Breakfast 05.04.11 by P Saunders

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