Wealthy parents are giving their less-able children a ‘glass floor’ to prevent them from falling down the social ladder in Britain, anew report claims, while bright but disadvantaged young people are failing to get the same opportunities.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) found children from high income backgrounds – who show signs of low academic ability at age five – are 35 per cent more likely to be high earners by the time they’re 42 compared with children from poorer families who show early signs of high ability.
The report for the SMCPC – which advises the Government on social mobility issues – was based on a long-term study of 17,000 British-born children born in a single week in 1970 that measured their ability at the age of five.
The chair of SMCPC, Alan Milburn, said the ‘glass floor’ is as much a problem as the ‘glass ceiling’ in British society.
He described how wealthier parents should not be penalised for wanting the best for their children – but did acknowledge how the country is far from being a “meritocratic society” when the less able can do better in life than the more able.
He added: “It’s a social scandal that all too often demography is still destiny in Britain.
“The Government should make its core mission the levelling of the playing field so that every child in the country has an equal opportunity to go as far as their abilities can take them.”
The research looked at the impact social background has on earnings at age 42 and whether this could be explained by early cognitive ability, qualifications, school type, parental education level and non-cognitive skills – such as self-esteem and behaviour – when it came to the conclusion.
Mr Milburn highlighted how disadvantaged children need to be made a part of a “one-nation approach” which sees them getting the same support, advice and development opportunities that better-off middle class families take for granted.
The onus is also on employers as he added: “Employers also need to step up to the plate by ensuring that internships aren’t simply reserved for those with the right social contacts and that recruitment processes aren’t skewed to favour polish over potential.”
Dr Abigail McKnight of the London School of Economics, who conducted the research, said middle-class families are “hoarding the best opportunities in the education system and in the labour market.”
Describing this as a “real barrier,” she said schools should be doing more to help children from less advantaged families build on high early potential.
The report has made several recommendations to policy-makers in tackling the issue.
It says, to reduce inequality, parents need to be educated to improve their skills and perspectives and that action needs to be taken to reduce ‘opportunity hoarding’ by tackling unpaid internships.
School selection procedures need to be monitored too, it adds, so this doesn’t inadvertently skew access towards those from advantaged backgrounds who can afford extensive private tuition.