THE BLOG

Britain's Young Are On The Wrong Side Of A Great Unfairness

15/06/2017 11:36

It has long been identified that Britain has a poor record on differential life chances between those growing up in rich and those growing up in poor ones (often called relative social mobility). But research out today finds that a stark intergenerational divide has opened up as well and Britain's young people feel there are on the wrong side of a great unfairness.

The Social Mobility Commission has found that nearly half of people (48%) believe that where you end up in society today is mainly determined by your background and who your parents are. This compares to 32% who believe everyone has a fair chance to get on regardless of their background.

But the big change in Britain, as highlighted in the survey, is that the younger generation feel this most acutely. Only one in three young people feel that they are earning more than their parents, only a fifth say they have better job security and job satisfaction and only a quarter believe they have a better chance of owning their own home.

Since the Second World War, each generation has seen higher educational attainment, rising pay and living standards, better job opportunities and rising home ownership. These improvements in peoples absolute living standards, opportunities in work and wealth (most wealth is held in the form of housing and pensions) are so normalised that they have been taken for granted.

However since 2005, and especially since the deep recession, these improvements in living standards have halted or gone into reverse. Young people today now fear they will be the first post-war generation not to have a substantially improved lot in life compared to their parents.

The views of young people are echoed by the facts. For those aged 30 to 35, pay fell sharply compared to prices after the recession. Their pay now stands around that of people at the same age 15 years ago - only marginally above that of their parents' generation - and home ownership is well below that seen two decades ago.

Young people, despite being the best educated generation ever, are not progressing up the career ladder as rapidly as past generations, with lower starting pay and less rapid promotions. Many firms have also curbed the generosity of pension contributions for new staff and final salary pensions will be extremely rare when today's young retire.

Britain's deep social mobility problem - in terms of huge differences in life chances within generations - was perhaps made tolerable by the twentieth century promise that each generation would be better off. But the young are finding that this promise is now being broken.

This makes our social mobility record intolerable and young people are making their voice heard. Politicians will scramble to catch up, but this needs far more than government action. Schools, universities and businesses all need to keep the door to opportunity wide open for all - not just the high achieving.

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