The term ‘social mobility’ is very much linked with the concept of ‘aspiration’, much vaunted by the political leaders of our age. Both suggest that quality of life is improved by individual effort rather than collectively, and in that regard, both justify the persistence of social inequality. Social mobility is the idea that a few lucky individuals can escape poverty and catapult themselves into the middle class if they are gifted enough to do so. They are a fig leaf for the thousands who remain behind in low-paid jobs, inadequate housing, and a savage benefits system.
When answering the question of what we do about the UK being less socially mobile, perhaps we should turn to the Scottish socialist John McLean, who said: “Rise with your class, not out of it.” Surely this is a better way of addressing the concerns of working-class people – one that doesn’t take people of out working-class jobs and turn them into physics professors or barristers, but ensures that working-class jobs themselves are dignified, well-remunerated and don’t involve punishingly long working hours.
In a recent essay series for Class, Owen Jones outlined a series of possible policies a progressive leader could implement to improve the lot of all working people. These include a massive house building programme, a living wage, rent controls, and universal free education. Jones wrote: ‘The left wins by building a coalition of both low-income and middle-income Britons. It does that by offering a coherent, inspiring alternative that can improve their lives, their families, their communities, their country and their world – all of which are interconnected.’
These are the kind of things the left should be shooting for: not for a few chosen ones to be whisked away into a better life, but for a vision of society that includes us all.