PSE: UK response to social mobility strategy

In Social Mobility and Child Poverty, the PSE: UK research team is highly critical of the Coalition government’s social mobility strategy and, in particular, its claim that the best way to tackle intergenerational mobility is to break the ‘the transmission of disadvantage from one generation to the next’. The PSE paper dismisses the idea that poverty is ‘transmitted’ between generations as ‘simply incorrect’ and argues that the best way to tackle intergenerational disadvantage and low social mobility is to eradicate poverty among children and adults. 

The PSE team welcome the suggestion of increased emphasis on the early years, including the availability and quality of services for families and children and improving parenting. However, the paper notes that parenting quality is not a primary cause of poverty in the UK, or in other countries, and that both parenting skills and poverty have important but independent effects on children’s outcomes.

The PSE paper is particularly concerned with the philosophical position displayed in the Coalition government’s social mobility and child poverty strategies, which seemingly revive a number of discredited theories from the 1960s and 1970s on intergenerational mobility, particularly Cultural Deficit theory, Problem Families and theories of Transmitted Deprivation. The paper says:

The idea that poverty is ‘transmitted’ between generations is an old libel which is entirely without foundation or supporting evidence. … Despite almost 150 years of scientific investigation, often by extremely partisan investigators, not a single study has ever found any large group (that is more than 1.5 per cent) of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty. …

Children who grow up living in poverty are unsurprisingly more likely to suffer from poverty during their adult lives than their non-poor peers. There are also of course many families which have problems (sometimes multiple problems) who could benefit from additional help and services. However, any policy based on the idea that there are a group of ‘Problem Families’ who ‘Transmit’ their ‘Poverty/Deprivation’ to their children will inevitably fail, as this idea is a prejudice, unsupported by scientific evidence.

The paper suggests considering instead alternative strategies, such as those in the Welsh government’s child poverty strategy and delivery plan. These include:

  1. Increasing the incomes of poor families with children.
  2. Reducing social and material deprivation of poor children.
  3. Improving housing condition of poor children.
  4. Improving the health of poor children and reducing health inequalities among children.
  5. Improving the educational attainment and reduce educational inequalities among both younger and older children.
  6. Improving poor children’s participation in cultural, sporting and leisure activities and reducing inequalities in these areas among children.
  7. Facilitating children and young people to participate more fully in their communities.

See also:
The full PSE response, Social Mobility and Child Poverty.
The government’s social mobility strategy: Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility, reported in Deputy Prime Minister launches social mobility strategy.
The government’s child poverty strategy, A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives, The Field Review and the PSE: UK response to the Field Review consultation.

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