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Social mobility on the up since 2014

The Social Mobility Commission has published its State of the Nation report showing improved social mobility in the past eight years and new measures to tackle socio-economic inequality.

In 2022, the report found the proportion of men aged 25-29 from a professional background likely to be in a professional job narrowed from 1.9 times more likely in 2014 to 1.6 times more likely. 

For women, the drop was from 2.3 times more likely to 1.6 times more likely. 

It also revealed the gap between professional and working-class backgrounds for both university participation and degree attainment has narrowed between 2014 and 2021. 

More on social mobility:

How do you define social mobility?

Social mobility: The route less travelled in diversity and inclusion

Social mobility: The route less travelled in D&I, part two

But while the report points to significant progress, it also argued the term social mobility is far too complex. As a result, it has announced a new Social Mobility Index which will consider newer outcomes of social mobility including income, wealth, education and housing.

The intent is to measure actual outcome changes over the next 30 years. Annual measures (such as educational attainment) will be cross-referenced with intermediate outcomes on progress every five years.

Kim Milan, senior partner at law firm Boyes Turner said it was high-time a more nuanced approach was taken. 

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “I was the daughter of a painter and decorator, grew up on a council estate, but was the first in my family to go to university. Yet I was lucky enough to be surrounded by the right people.

“Social mobility shouldn’t be down to luck.”

Milan supports the report’s theme that all too often social mobility is framed as a ‘rags-to-riches’ story, which only celebrates the few.

She added: “The rags to riches approach is too simplistic. There’s lots of achievements people make while not necessarily socially advancing, and the HR profession needs to see this distinction too.

“We’re trying to recognise this in our own firm, by soon taking some people via an apprenticeship, rather than university, route.”

Commenting on the changes, Katharine Birbalsingh, Social Mobility Commission chair said: “We want to get at the reasons why social mobility happens, when it happens, and why some people buck the trend.” 

In detail, it will look how and where the creation of opportunities happens, including the role of enterprise in challenging social mobility hierarchies, and how businesses of all types can generate opportunity.

It will also look at the impact that certain qualifications – particularly degrees and technical qualifications – can have on social mobility.

Speaking to HR magazine Chris Goulding, managing director at recruitment firm Wade Macdonald said: “With two-thirds of Britons saying that attending university is no longer a viable nor affordable option, organisations who do not widen their tunnel vision will risk missing out on a huge bank of untapped talent.”