That social mobility report

It’s predicated upon the idea that we’re all terribly interested in social mobility. As Tony Blair said he was.

So, we’re judging current policy by the desires of four PMs ago. Is this actually sensible?

19 comments on “That social mobility report

  1. No link yet, Timmy
    But I get your thinking.
    The posh don’t want to downsocialise
    The grubs want to keep their children immobile so they can be looked after in old age.
    Logical

  2. “As the recent general election seems to demonstrate, there is no consensus in the nation about how best to answer these questions. The public mood is sour, sometimes angry,” says Alan Milburn, Chair of the influential Social Mobility Commission. …It looks like we’re running the same old arguments, maybe hoping for a different outcome. I made my mind up long ago and have watched the pendulum swing back and forward the past forty years according to public mood. I guess there’s no reason we shouldn’t repeat it again for a new audience.

  3. From the press release:

    at current rates of progress, it will take 15 years before all children are school ready and 40 years before the attainment gap between poor 5 year olds and their better-off counterparts is closed

    My prediction: the attainment gap between poor 5 year olds and their better-off counterparts will never be closed. Because parents.

  4. Andrew M.
    I suppose you could put my nephews’ children in a holding pen for a decade or so while the slackers catch up, but that would allow those leading the race to pull further ahead.

  5. From the Telegraph,

    “He said: “Whole tracts of Britain feel left behind. Whole communities feel the benefits of globalisation have passed them by. Whole sections of society feel they are not getting a fair chance to succeed.”

    Get fucking bent, quite frankly.

    Friend of a friend was one of the biggest selling Kindle authors in the UK last year. She lives out in eastern Northants. Has no degree, no media friends. Lives in a rather small house.

    I can get you programming for close to £0. You can get a PC from a business throwing them out. Visual Studio or Eclipse for £0. Books and training stuff for free or maybe £20-30. If you want a nice piece of paper saying you know your stuff? That’s maybe another £200 and lots of learning work.

    Or just, you know, second jobs. Pretty easy to find restaurants looking for people who want weekend bar staff. Not great, but it’ll make you some more money. Give you opportunities. I used to regularly work 6 day weeks when I was young.

    I know people who have 3 skills they can use to make money. A bloke I work with wants to get into blockchain programming. He hasn’t programmed since school, but he got a course for £20. A woman I know did a friend’s wedding photography and is thinking of doing it as a sideline as it worked out so well. Today, it costs fark all to set up as a wedding photographer.

    There’s 20m people every Saturday watching the X-Factor rather than reading Newton’s Principia.

  6. BiS,

    > There’s 20m people every Saturday watching the X-Factor rather than reading Newton’s Principia.

    People on the left and right take that fact and derive two completely different conclusions:
    – Left: “Let’s nationalise ITV and force them to show Open University videos from the 1970s instead of mindless junk.”
    – Right: “That must mean people are happy watching this drivel; so let’s not interfere. Ignore the busybodies trying to drum up complaints on their behalf.”

  7. Andrew M,

    “– Left: “Let’s nationalise ITV and force them to show Open University videos from the 1970s instead of mindless junk.”
    – Right: “That must mean people are happy watching this drivel; so let’s not interfere. Ignore the busybodies trying to drum up complaints on their behalf.””

    BBC is now mindless junk, except for the odd good thing on BBC4. That’s not going to help.

    And unnecessary. Plenty of good, geeky stuff on YouTube now. Or services costing very little money. A masterclass with Werner Herzog on filmmaking will cost you £95. Language apps cost around £7/month.

    This is what people want. They don’t like that that means they aren’t living in the nice houses and driving Mercs, but they expect to get it. And I fucking hate that. I’m all for a society of opportunity, but that doesn’t mean stuff comes for free.

  8. Mr Blair and his moll seem to have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that their children are not subject to social mobility.

  9. @BiSw

    Some good points there. I have qualifications coming out of my ears, largely self-taught, but I make a lot of my money from things which I have no qualifications in – just read a thick book or two, did some research on the internet, and a lot of hard slog working through questions until I made sure I understood it.

    Do I make heaps of money? Nope, but I hover around the top 10% of the UK income distribution – and if you put a “global citizen” hat on, that makes me a serious high-earner in world terms. For my qualifications you could argue I under-earn – had I followed the same career path as most of my peers on a commercially valuable course at an elite uni, I would be well inside the top 2% of the UK income distribution (difference between 10% and 2% may not sound much, but it’s several times the money – before tax, anyway). But then, they work high-flying, often round-the-world-jetting careers: sounds fun at first, but I’m sure there are only so many of the world’s office blocks it gets fun to visit while jet-lagged. Whereas I have made my own business out of my office-bedroom doing bits and bobs, the ilk of those freelancing jobbies you describe. Stuff most people would only do as a second or top-up income, but I discovered if I went all-out for it, invested intelligently in advertising and so on, there’s enough for a career in it – one which pays better than the vast majority of Brits get, and staggeringly better than most of the world.

    Which is funny really because the internet is a great leveller. I have worked with clients on every inhabited continent on the planet. Suits me down to the ground – I don’t have “living in an airport” syndrome, I don’t have to shell out for a commute to London (you’d have to pay me a lot more than I earn right now to make commuting worthwhile – since commuting comes out of after-tax income I’m really rather better off than my raw earnings figure suggests), I get all the lovely cushy utility of being able to sit out in my own garden in the sunshine in my breaks between work. It’s fantastic. Yet I can’t see why what I do couldn’t be done just as well from Chennai or Cape Town or Cebu. I guess I’m bloody lucky to be native English speaker who’s learned early on the value of technical and communication skills.

    Suits me down to the ground. It’s a low-stress lifestyle and I save like billy-o – in my early 30s, I have enough savings to last me 30 years, and an investment income approaching my earned income (which would boost me up a few percentiles on the income scale). And it all seems so easy – I’m just doing bit jobs, and the vast majority of my income doesn’t come from doing the more technically difficult tasks but the most basic ones. I’m a complete bottom-feeder. Yet somehow I’m making as much or more coin (after tax, after commuting costs) than people with far stronger skill-sets than me and far more impressive job titles. I have crappy chronic health, couldn’t work for much of my 20s, couldn’t physically do the kind of demanding high-pressure careers they do – the fact I’m doing better than them doesn’t really compute, unless they’re missing a serious trick. If I reach 40 with the knowledge my health could deteriorate at any moment, and I may not be able to work again, then it’s a blessed relief to know it doesn’t matter, because I could retire already (so long as I stick to my generally frugal preferences anyway).

    I really cannot get my head around why more people don’t take full advantage of what modern life seems to be laying down on a plate for them. We don’t need to earn mega-money, consumer goods are really rather cheap (very cheap if you are prepared to go second-hand on furniture, cars and so on) and electronic goods in particular are insanely cheap. Food might feel more expensive these days but it doesn’t eat up 25% of our incomes like it did for our ancestors, and you can always cook your own rather than eat out to keep costs down. So the outgoings side of the equation looks pretty rosy to me.

    On the income side, the internet plugs you into the global marketplace. There is demand for goods and services in every country on the face of the planet. Okay, from internet sales point of view, let’s bar North Korea, but I have made good money from Zimbabwe. If you can’t think of something you can make or do that someone, somewhere, anywhere, isn’t prepared to pay you for, then chances are you’re just not thinking hard enough. And if you are not quite there yet with the required skills, the internet also serves as the biggest opening-up of education in the history of humanity. If you want to find out how to make or do those things that the other folk are going to pay you for, the internet tells you how. Often for free (the main cost is the opportunity cost of your study-hours, what else could you do with them?) and the paid-for stuff is still massively cheaper than a uni course. So your laptop in your bedroom lets you learn from the best professors in America or Europe and sell your skills to Australia or India while you can buy the consumer goodies you need – fancy kit that would have been a technical marvel 15 years ago, yet now costs you only a few hours work –
    from China or Taiwan (often via Luxembourg) and you haven’t had to commute ten feet.

    This is the best time to be alive. Ever. Fact. And all people have to do is get off their backsides, study their arses off, LEARN LEARN LEARN LEARN, take advantage of that magical internetty thing their laptops have for a bit more than casual browsing and facebooking, plug in to the global market of their choice, and sell sell sell away. Okay, you still have to do the work. For a good few years anyway. But give me a choice between this, the mineshaft, and the toil of the fields? This. This anytime.

  10. TemporarilyAnonymousCoward,

    “Yet somehow I’m making as much or more coin (after tax, after commuting costs) than people with far stronger skill-sets than me and far more impressive job titles.”

    But it’s about solving a problem for people in the best way. It’s about that “trade” thing, finding ways to make customers happy.

    I know software guys that just can’t work as freelancers because they don’t get this. If their hairdresser approached them about a website, they’d build this huge, beautifully engineered thing. I wouldn’t. I’d use an off-the-shelf tool, get someone in to do some styling and that’d be it. And she’d be much happier.

  11. Bloke in Swindon,

    “I can get you programming for close to £0. You can get a PC from a business throwing them out. Visual Studio or Eclipse for £0. Books and training stuff for free or maybe £20-30. If you want a nice piece of paper saying you know your stuff? That’s maybe another £200 and lots of learning work.”

    In 2008 my wife wanted her own website for her art and I had an ultimatum of paying for one or building her one. The problem with artists websites is that web designers make them static and charge a small fortune for changing pictures.

    Being a Yorkshireman there’s no way I was paying for it so set about learning firstly how to set up web pages and then how to write one in HTML/CSS so that I could then change/add pictures for her.

    At the time there was very little support/structured lessons on the web so that meant books and learning the hard way.

    By 2011 I’d learnt enough PHP and MySQL to write a content management system that supported multiple artists around the same framework.

    As the web developed it got easier to learn new languages and I’ve added some JS to do error checking rather than waiting for the PHP to be run and returning errors. I can now knock up a new web page with content gentleman fairly quickly.

    I say that because after reading your comment I went away and thought I’d see how easy it is now and within 2 hours I’m up and running and starting to write C++ using a free course. As I already know the basics of programming I reckon it wouldn’t take me long to get reasonably proficient.

    I know not everyone has the aptitude for coding but what you and TAC have demonstrated is that anyone who really wants to help themselves can do relatively cheaply and quickly and those that don’t want to help themselves shouldn’t really expect much sympathy.

    I should point out that I’m used to self learning, having been originally trained in telecoms systems that were valve based it was learn quickly or die. The difference now is I don’t need expensive text books.I had a library of 20-30 books all costing around £50 at today’s prices.

  12. Ta, Bongo.

    BiSw

    Much truth in that. Quite often someone asks me for something that sounds terribly complicated, or I can see a really “nice” sophisticated way of doing it – then after a bit of thought I figure out I can knock something off using GCSE-level maths and high-school level IT skills, and if it works, people are more than happy to pay for it. I’ve worked for some serious people, household names, and less well-known types like venture capitalists – shove them an Excel spreadsheet I could have produced in Year 11, that does exactly what they said they wanted to do but couldn’t figure out how to do it, and they’re more than happy to stuff the wonga in my direction. They were stuck, you got them unstuck, job done. (It’s not just me. Old mate of mine is Oxbridge-educated, STEM degree, and in the UK on a “highly skilled” visa working for a multinational logistics firm. Not done anything beyond basic Excel for years. Moans they’re bored out of their skull, never does anything they couldn’t have done at 14. Dude! You have come from your poor-as-mud homeland that you tell anyone in earshot you hate the backwardsness of, earning a London salary, living in one of the world’s great global cities, and you’re moaning that work isn’t hard enough? Chill! Proper bona fide geeks are weird like that.)

    Had a research student need help with some stats analysis, terrified of the SPSS she was being forced to use. Wanted all this complicated stuff that more senior researchers were badgering her to do – would mean going into Syntax Editor and writing some custom code, no way on Earth would she understand it. Not so intimidating for me because I can code, but neither the syntax nor its output would have been in the least bit comprehensible to her. Took a thinky-pause, told her to drop it, stick to a few simple methods I had learned to execute in the GUI within the first hour I ever saw SPSS, taught her how to use the menus and interpret the results and within a couple of hours she could do it all for herself. Freed up her time to focus on the qualitative stuff she was clearly better at. Did her esteemed supervisors care that she had junked their advice and stuck to the easy-peasy things? Nope, the research won a prize from the (Global Top 10) uni she was based at. Cos it was simple, interpretable, correct, and the person who wrote it eventually understood what she was doing. But I think a lot of other people in my situation would have made the wrong call, because otherwise the work isn’t hard enough. (And the client said it, so obviously the client wanted it! And a world-renowned professor had suggested it to her, so it had to be a good idea!)

    So here’s the funny thing. If I were a code junkie churning out SPSS Syntax for fun, obviously I could charge a higher hourly rate. In some fields of expertise, law or machine learning learning for example, I could probably stick a zero on the end of my pay rate. But still somebody would have to do my work. And on current trends they’d still get paid well enough for it. Look, I’m in the richest 10% of one of the richest countries on the planet, am considering the practicalities of retirement or at least financial independence at 40, can hardly complain about the pay can I? Particularly when it is a major event for me to ever have to cart out higher-level skills than bog-standard first-year undergrad stuff.

    I honestly thought this sort of grunt work was meant to have disappeared by now, automated or outsourced off to India or the Philippines. Argued about this with a mate 15 years ago, he wanted to go into programming and I said he was mad. In 10, 20, 30 years, how many programming tasks did he think would be done in Bangalore? Safer to be a plumber. He convinced me he was sane. If your skills are world-class, nobody outsources you, though you may need to go to where the work is. He was proven right, in the wallet, where it matters – now earns his millions (literally) in Silicon Valley, far cry from suburban England. But I’m not sure we called it spot-on; implicit for us in the idea of the rewards of a globalised economy going to those with the global-level skills, was the idea that if you didn’t stay razor-sharp then you were literally in the firing line. All these mushy undergrad-level skills were going to be near-worthless because they were going to be bid down to the price of the global lowest-bidder, and you don’t want to get into that kind of race with someone whose living costs are a tenth of yours.

    Now, there are plenty of unemployed middle-aged IT contractors with unpublishable opinions about Indian techies, so I’m not saying there’s been no effect. But there’s still a whole marketplace of skills and jobs that haven’t been either rendered obsolete or sucked overseas. The bitty freelancing stuff I do is too small for the big firms to bother with, I guess, and requires too much human contact to be automated away. Other tasks require more local skills. Know a lass who made good money doing English conversation classes with Chinese businesspeople on Skype – whole line of work that didn’t exist 15 years ago. As a top-up income I reckon it actually takes fewer skills than evening bar-work (I’d struggle not to spill the drinks, but consider the people skills and situational awareness that job can demand of you) yet the pay is more than double. And the best-educated kid in Delhi can’t claim he has a native British accent.

    So strikes me, for now at least, the opportunities are still right out there – percolating through your household via wi-fi this very moment, just waiting for people to take them. Frankly, the world couldn’t do more for us unless Opportunity herself jumped up and down in our faces, waving a flag that said HERE FOR YOU TO TAKE. For me that’s what makes the X-million man-hours expended each week on EastEnders and X-Factor such a tragedy. Yes, we all know world experts can make unfathomable amounts of money in ever-shorter spans of time … but you don’t have to be remotely near that level to benefit. You need perseverance, and to put in a few hard yards, and to keep an eye out for what’s available to you, but it really doesn’t take a genius-level IQ or PhD levels of study. With all the resources available to us, you can learn a hell of a lot in a few hundred hours. The average Brit watches something like 1400 hours of TV per year. Opportunity costs.

    For me, it was always prize enough to learn about the wonders of the natural and cultural world around us, and the technological world that thousands of great minds had built and we all now inhabit … but I was weird like that. Now there’s an added incentive: learn this stuff, plug into the world around you, feed the unmet hungers of its inhabitants, grasp the most golden opportunities ever bestowed upon mankind – without leaving your living room, if you so prefer – and take your rich pecuniary reward. But nope, say the people, we’d still rather sit around watching (in ever-decreasing numbers, thank goodness) Simon Smug-Faced Cowell. Gaze upon him, behold his smirk as he takes his millions from us all! Different strokes for different folks, and if they have a different utility function to me then so be it, but people are bloody weird like that.

    I agree with BIND that self-learning isn’t for everyone. Frankly there are always going to be a few people who will never have the ability to provide something people are willing to pay for while earning the minimum wage, but they are a minority and that’s what the welfare system is for. For most people, though, the opportunities are better than at any point in history.

  13. TemporarilyAnonymousCoward,

    “The bitty freelancing stuff I do is too small for the big firms to bother with, I guess, and requires too much human contact to be automated away”

    That’s the thing. The projects that used to have 30 guys in a team aren’t here, or if they hit that scale, are soon going to vanish to India. In the 1-3 man teams I generally work in, it isn’t worth it. The communication overhead kills it.

  14. BiND,

    “I say that because after reading your comment I went away and thought I’d see how easy it is now and within 2 hours I’m up and running and starting to write C++ using a free course. As I already know the basics of programming I reckon it wouldn’t take me long to get reasonably proficient.”

    I wouldn’t do C++. Managed code like C# and Java take away so much trouble. My own personal thing is not so much languages, but APIs. Doing more things with C#. Did some Umbraco, now moving onto Xamarin.

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