Author : Dr. Simon Lenton

Just once in awhile, a report is written, that in retrospect might be deemed to be "sentinel", I would include the 1977 Court Report as an example, together with this report from the Social Mobility Commission which reviews the impact of social policy over two decades and comes to some stark conclusions. It is extremely timely arriving post-election when the future of politics and the balance between free markets and rights based social policy are once again beginning to be debated again.

Every Prime Minister in the last 20 years, regardless of party, has committed themselves to improving social mobility, reducing inequalities and creating lasting sustainability. Sadly, the reality has been an increasingly divided nation with:

  • increasing geographical inequalities-a spatial divide.
  • increasing generational inequalities - a generational divide
  • increasing economic inequalities - an income and wealth divide.

The report concludes that these divisions are not sustainable either, socially, economically or politically and now is the time to change.

Five key lessons are highlighted.

  1. Failure to integrate social mobility as a foundation factor for domestic policy.
  2. Too many uncoordinated, short-term, unevaluated interventions, particularly in the early years sector.
  3. Lack of alignment between different policy objectives for example exam results have been prioritised over health and well-being and employment prospects.
  4. Public sector spending not aligned with social mobility policies, for example, pensioners protected while spending on young people and poor working adults withdrawn.
  5. Governments have been too tentative in addressing market failures in local economies, they have assumed a free market will result in social mobility.

The report makes 19 recommendations covering the early years, schools, young people and working lives. The predominant focus on children and young people and their potential is welcome, particularly support for parenting programmes to improve school readiness, reducing the attainment gap in GCSE results and a more balanced curriculum including social and emotional learning within the school timetable. Helping young people into meaningful work through careers advice and apprenticeship; and also interventions to improve the transition between higher education and working lives. Then finally, a new ambition to make UK the country with the lowest level of low pay in the OECD by 2030, through improving career progression and encouraging highly skilled worker opportunities, particularly outside London.

This report is recommended reading for everyone interested in child public health, it is packed with facts and analysis, is a history lesson in its own right, and makes recommendations that every politician and policymaker, at both national and local levels, should listen and respond to.

BACAPH members already know that poverty and inequity are the greatest drivers of poor health in the UK, and this report provides fact and argument to support a change in policy direction that has a welcome focus on investing in children and young people. As we enter an increasingly automated world where human labour is replaced by machines and the world wakes up to the fact that we have a finite planetary ecosystem it is essential that children and young people are better prepared for the future world, than our current generation.

BACAPH members can

  • can discuss the implications of this report at every opportunity,
  • take practical action at a local level, work with other groups to advocate for evidence-based policy-making,
  • embed social mobility into all policies,
  • help create learning systems

So that in another 20 years we're not looking back wondering why public policy has not addressed these important issues.


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