Monday, 4 May 2009

Boris wrong on Maggie and mobility

Boris Johnson offers his Blond on blonde assessment of Margaret Thatcher's legacy in The Telegraph.

It is an entertaining read, and captures something of the difficulty for Tory Mods in wanting to pay tribute to the Iron Lady but

There are huge numbers of people who will never forgive her for saying that "there is no such thing as society. There are men and women, and there are families." It sounds frighteningly atomistic and strident, and does not seem to reflect the duty we all owe to each other ... Margaret Thatcher will always divide the British people, not least since we are ourselves divided. There is a part of us that will always dislike the acquisitive, appetitive instincts she seemed to espouse".

On one important point, though, Boris is flat out wrong:

She gave people the confidence to buy shares, to start their own businesses, to move on and up in society – and there was more social mobility under Margaret Thatcher than there has been since.

Except that there wasn't.

Indeed, the Tory Mods' own concern about social mobility arises from the much cited LSE study (also summarised here) which found that social mobility declined fairly sharply for the 1970 cohort (those born in 1970, who were sixteen in 1986 and eighteen in 1988) compared to those born in 1958 (who were 16-18 in 1974-76).

The impact of increased income inequality in the 1980s has had a significant impact on entrenching social immobility; what that study particularly showed was how heavily increased opportunities in higher education went to the better off.

Social mobility fell sharply in the Thatcher years. It has stabilised since.

Because this study was published in 2005 that the myth that 'social mobility has fallen under New Labour' has become so prevalent. Of course, New Labour had little chance of making an impact on the life chances and career patterns of those aged 37 when it came to power.

It is not possible to make a definitive assessment of the outcomes of the post-1997 and millennium cohorts, when those born in 1997 remain four years short of taking their GCSEs. More recent studies which use early educational scores as a proxy for employment outcomes, show that the fall in mobility has not continued but has been stabilised.

Taking all these results together suggests that the sharp decline in intergenerational mobility that occurred between between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts has not continued for more recent generations of children. However, at the same time mobility levels have not reversed or started to improve, and remain very low.

The fall in intergenerational mobility between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts appears to have been an episode. Social mobility worsened and took a step change downwards, leaving the UK close to the bottom of the intergenerational league table of mobility.

There is some early evidence that early years strategies and broader redistribution could be having some impact, though anybody interested in social mobility should be advocating that these are significantly deepened, and not reversed.

1 comment:

Robert said...

But we will still vote in a Tory government.