Why has the Achievement Gap Between Private and State Schools Increased?

Possible explanations include less disruption to schooling, more parental pressure and higher prior attainment

Teachers in private schools awarded 70% of A-level entries A or A* grades in 2021, compared to just 45% for all exam entries across both state and private schools.

And the proportion of top grades awarded to candidates from private schools increased at a faster rate than for state schools – the A/ A* rate rose by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020 in private schools, but only by 6% elsewhere.

Why have private school candidates improved at a faster rate than state school candidates?

This article from The Guardian suggests that there are three possible reasons for the rapid improvement of private school pupils.

  • Private school students’ learning may have been less disrupted by school closures and forced isolation for individual students than was the case with state schools – private schools generally have smaller class sizes than state schools and so it would be easier for teachers to manage online learning and classroom learning at the same time.
  • Middle class parents may have been better able to home-school their children during school closures due to their higher levels of cultural capital.
  • Teachers in private schools may have been under more pressure from paying parents to inflate their children’s grades – this may not even be conscious, but parents are paying for a service, and if the teachers don’t deliver when they have the opportunity to do so (when THEY determine the grades, not the examiners), this could make the parents question what they are spending their money on?!?
  • The difference might also be due to the higher prior levels of learning among privately schooled students – state school students simply may have got further behind because of year 1 of disruption the year before, and this is an accumulative affect.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This update has clear links to the sociology of education, especially the topic on social class and educational achievement, fitting in quite nicely as supporting evidence for how material and cultural capital advantages students from wealthier backgrounds.

It should also be of interest to any state school student who generally likes to feel enraged by social injustice.

Only 18% of Senior Civil Servants are from ‘Working Class’ Backgrounds

A recent study from the Social Mobility Commission found that only 18% Senior Civil Servants are from lower social class backgrounds, what we might traditionally call ‘working class’ backgrounds’, and this is down from 19% in 1967!

The majority of senior civil servants are from privileged, higher social economic backgrounds, many having benefited from an independent (private school) education.

The proportion of employees from low social economic backgrounds varies a lot according to role, region and department.

For example, 40% of those those working in operational roles, delivering services are from lower SEBs compared to just 19% working in policy (policy jobs tend to be more prestigious).

And only 12% of people working in the Treasury are from low SEBs compared to 45% working in ‘work and pensions’.

And 22% of of London based civil servants come from low SEBs compared to 48% working in the North East.

The report is based on a survey of 300 00 civil servants so is very representative and 100 hour long interviews to explore why there is such a class divide in the senior ranks.

Why are the working classes underrepresented in the senior civil service?

The title of report points to an explanation – it is called ‘Navigating the labyrinth’ for a reason.

The authors put it down to a number of ‘hidden rules’ surrounding career progression in the civil service which create cumulative barriers that make it more difficult for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to make it into the Civil Service.

For example, there are some roles within the civil service that act as career accelerators but getting into these roles depends on who you know, such as having access to already senior staff and ministers, and those from lower SEBs lack this kind of in-house social capital.

There are also dominant behavioural codes within the senior civil service, which those from higher SEBs are more familiar with, they come naturally to them, one aspect of this is ‘studied neutrality’

The report describes Studied neutrality as having three key dimensions:

  1. a received pronunciation (RP) accent and style of speech
  2. emotionally detachment and an understated self-presentation
  3. prizing the display of in-depth knowledge for its own sake (and not directly related to work).

On the later point, some of the lower SEB interviewees in the study mentioned that there is a lot of talking in Latin, which many senior staff would break into sometimes during meetings, far from necessary from doing the job!

A final factor is that those from SEB backgrounds are more likely to specialise in a particular career path, which isn’t necessary for career progression.

Does the class divide in the senior civil service matter?

According to those in the senior service, no it doesn’t, because they see themselves as ‘neutral advisors’.

However, from a more Marxist point of view clearly it does! Just from a social justice perspective we have here a classic example of cultural capital blocking those from lower social backgrounds progressing to more senior positions, and those with cultural capital (from higher economic backgrounds) having an advantage.

And, despite claims to neutrality it’s unlikely that those from privileged backgrounds are going to advise on policies which promote more social justice and greater social mobility as that would be undermining the advantage they and their children have with the status quo!

How is Coronavirus Affecting Developing Countries?

It is worth distinguishing first of all between the negative health effects of the virus itself and the negative effects of government lockdowns. The severity of lockdowns and the capacity to enforce them vary from country to country, and so the consequences of this politically imposed response to the pandemic will vary greatly across countries.

EVEN IF the stats are unreliable, governments the world over have responded with lockdown measures in response to public concern, which has very real consequences.

Lockdowns are pushing people into poverty, hunger and children are being pulled out of school

This brief report from the ODI puts a human face on the consequences of Covid-19. They provide a case study of one woman in Nairobi, Kenya, who was eating three meals a day and sending her children to school pre-lockdown.

However, lockdown forced the shutdown of her street food stall and now she is eating one meal a day, the children are meal sharing at another household and she doesn’t have the money to send them back to school.

Coronavirus has pushed another 71 million people into extreme poverty

The World Bank estimates that 71 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2021 as a result of coronavirus, an increase of 0.5% and taking the total to nearly 9% of the world population, eradicating all progress towards ending extreme poverty since 2017.

A further 170 million people in low to middle income countries will be pushed below the global poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50 a day.

How covid-19 has affected households in developing countries

Another World Bank report from December 2020 used phone surveys to interview people in IDA (countries qualifying for development assistance, mostly the poorest countries) and non-IDA countries.

The results show that the consequences have generally been harsher for people in developing countries:

  • People in IDA countries are less likely to have stopped working but more likely to have taken cuts in wages.
  • They are more likely to have skipped a meal.
  • Children’s education has suffered much more in IDA countries compared to non-IDA countries
  • Government bail outs are much less common in IDA countries.

This united Nations article suggests that poorer countries lack the capacity to respond to a global pandemic and that coronavirus could create further burdens in those countries having to deal with other major health problems such as aids and malaria.

It further notes that closure of borders will affect those countries reliant on trade, and reduce remittances from abroad (money sent home), reduce migrant labour opportunities and affect those countries which rely on tourism for income.

Covid-19 will increase inequality

A final World Bank report suggests that inequality will increase as a result of Covid-19.

This is based on evidence from how countries have recovered from previous Pandemics.

The theory is that households with resources are better able to weather the negative affects of a downturn, by keeping their children in school for example, and by using savings rather than taking on debt, and so can just ‘carry on’ as normal when economic recover comes, while poorer people are having to play catch up.

It’s explained in this handy infographic:

Those working in the informal sector are hardest hit

This LSE. blog post reminds us that many more people work informally in developed countries – and these people will be the hardest hit by lockdown policies – they are the first to be laid-off when work is reduced and they do not qualify for any government assistance measures either.

Other potential impacts

You should be able to find out about other impacts, such as:

  • In the long term more countries might cut their foreign aid budgets, like Britain has done recently.
  • Charities such as Oxfam are likely to receive less money from the general public.
  • It will be more difficult for migrant labourers to find work because of border restrictions.
  • I dread to think how all of this has affected the movement of refugees!
  • There have probably been more cases of domestic abuse worldwide as a result of lockdowns.
  • Possibly the most devastating long-term affect is the number of days of schooling that children in poorer countries would have missed – low income countries have much less capacity to offer home based, online learning, compared to wealthier countries.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is mainly relevant to the health and global development topic, but there are also some useful links here to social constructionism and social action theory.

Poverty in America

The 2019 video below features Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs in a discussion of why there is so much poverty in America and what can be done about it.

While the discussion was before the 2020 elections, it’s still worth a watch because it’s quite rare to see such big names on the A-level sociology global development syllabus discussing something so specific.

The video is very watchable – split into two sections focussing on two questions:

  1. Why is there so much poverty in America?
  2. What can we do to reduce poverty in America?

Why is there so much poverty in America?

Key points:

  • Approximately 38 million Americans, or 1 in 8 people live in poverty today.
  • Inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression in 1926.
  • America hasn’t always been so unequal – since the New Deal and up to the mid 1970s government policies worked effectively to reduce inequality in America
  • Inequality started to get worse under Reagan when he introduced neoliberal reforms. This initially meant tax cuts for the very rich.
  • More recently under Donald Trump there have been even more tax cuts for corporations and proposed cuts to benefits (for example restricting the number of people who are allowed food stamps). (NB I’m not sure whether these policies went through since Trump got voted out of power!)
  • The United States political system is now owned by Corporate interests who bankroll elections.
  • Tax havens are also mentioned as a problem – the often illegal means by which Corporations extract wealth from poorer countries.
  • We need to get rid of Trump and his pandering to ‘divide and rule’ racist attitudes in America.

What can we do about poverty in America?

  • Krugman and Sachs point to the fact that Capitalism isn’t the problem – Northern European countries can be socially just and capitalist.
  • What we need is ‘social democracy’ where the State regulates capitalism, rather (presumably) than neoliberalism).
  • They seem to think Denmark offers hope – it used to be very unequal in the 19th century and now is very equal.
  • We need to get rid of plutocracy in America – i.e. get rid of the amount of control Corporations have over the political system.
  • Young people are mentioned as the solution – they are more tolerant of diversity and less likely to vote for Trump.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a very useful video for any student studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

It focuses on a specific issue relevant to the specification, that of inequality and development and you get to hear the views of two major economists on the issue.

TBH I was surprised at how similar their views are and how critical Sach’s was of Corporations and too little regulation, I had expected him to be a little less radical!

The Rich, The Poor and the Trash

Summary of a documentary on global inequalities and waste

This excellent 2018 documentary gives us a rare insight into the daily working lives of two men living in poverty, both making a living through trash, one in Kenya and the other in the United States.

It’s a really useful resource for gaining an insight into what the lived experience of poverty is like in these two very different countries, and for highlighting the extent of global inequalities.

Most of the documentary focuses on two men, and we get to hear a lot from them: details of their lives and their thoughts on poverty and inequality and what they would do to help overcome the problems of inequality.

We also here from a few experts and other people, but these take on a supporting role to the two main proponents (which is unusual for documentaries like this, but also welcome!

This is an excellent video to use to teach Global Development in A-level sociology, personally I would use it in the introductory lesson to the module.

Below i provide a brief summary of some of the key points of this documentary:

Sorting trash in Kenyan slum

After a brief introduction we get to see the first part the day of one guy in Kenya who works in waste management.

He gets up at 4.00 a.m and then spends several hours sorting through trash which is delivered from the nearby affluent suburbs and shopping areas. He sorts out food for his pigs and separates out any useful items which he can sell on.

There are a lot of people working sorting waste, many of them there because they have no other option. Many of them also eat waste food they find there.

Recycling cans in New York

The video now hops over to America where it follows another guy who also gets up at 4.00 a.m. to collect cans and bottles, which he then sorts to sell – there’s a good market in recycled containers it seams in New York – he can make $75 a day doing this.

We also get an insight into his life history – he used to be homeless, and he reminds us that many Americans are just one pay check away from falling into a similar situation.

Back in the slum

In this third section we see the guy in Kenya sorting out some of the cartons he’s found at the dump – he gets someone else to wash them and then he sells them on, making a daily income of $3-4 which is enough for him to feed his family, and lifts him above Kenya’s formal poverty line.

The U.S ‘Cultural Waste and Recycling Centres’

Back in the United States – we’re taken to a recycling centre, a community initiative that gives ‘canners’ support in their recycling endeavours – which plays a crucial part in helping them stay resilient.

The video also gets a bit more analytical at this point – there are 600 billionaires in the United States, but 40 million Americans live in poverty. But poverty is much worse in Kenya – it takes the average Kenyan 20 years to earn the annual salary of the average American.

There’s also a short interview with an anthropologist who reminds us that waste is cultural – a lot of things are only trash because we label them as such – and we take a trip to one guy’s museum of trash to drive the point home – he’s got thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good stuff he’s collected from what other people have thrown away!

Reflecting on Inequality

The documentary now highlights inequalities in the two countries – by taking a trip to the mall in Kenya – one gets the impression that the government there is investing more in malls for the wealth than in education and health for the poor.

In America we visit a guy who makes art from trash – one piece (which sold for a small fortune) adorns the wall of the one the most expensive apartments in New York – how’s that for irony.

Final section

in this section the two main men in the video give their views on inequality – both seem quite wise – neither think inequality is a good thing and would use our financial resources to give more enabling support to those in poverty, a leg up if you like to better help them help themselves.

Discussion Questions

Why do you think the video focuses on trash as a means of exploring inequality?

Have these two men found an effective solution (sorting and selling trash) to lift themselves out of poverty?

Do you agree with the two men in this video. Should our global resources be used to help the poor?

Visualising Global Wealth Inequalities

Global inequality is one of the core themes in the Global Development option within A-level sociology, and visual infographics are a useful way of making global inequalities easier to understand.

This post focuses on global wealth inequalities.

Details of how wealth is measured are included at the bottom of this post.

The Distribution of Wealth by Country

Global Private Household Wealth stood at $400 trillion in June 2020 according to Credit Suisse’s latest 2020 Global Wealth Report.

(This was almost 9% increase on the previous year, and continued a long term trend of increasing wealth over the last two decades.)

If this wealth were distributed evenly, each individual adult in the world would have a total net worth of almost $80 000. However, the distribution is far from equal!

The map below shows the median net private wealth per household in different countries in 2019, according to Credit Suisse.

From the figure we can see that generally:

  • North America, Western Europe and Australian households have an average wealth of over $100 000.
  • Brazil, China and Russia (three of the BRIC nations) have an average household wealth of between $25 000 to $100 000
  • Much of Asia and Latin American and North Africa have an average household wealth of between $5000 to $25 000
  • Most of Sub Saharan Africa and Afghanistan have an average household wealth of less than $5000.

NB – you can look at practically any map of any development indicator (health/ education/ peacefulness etc.) and you’ll find that poor health, low levels of education and high levels of conflict are correlated with low levels of wealth. There are some notable exceptions, but as a general rule, low levels of household wealth means poor social development!

(For example, one notable exception is the USA which is very wealthy but severely socially underdeveloped, possibly because of such high levels of relative poverty within the country)

Global Wealth by Country

The infographic below by Visual Capitalist (link below) shows us the amount of wealth per country:

Top wealthiest countries

Visual Capitalist also produced the following table:

RankCountryRegionTotal Wealth ($B, 2019)% Global Share
#1🇺🇸 United StatesNorth America$105,99029.4%
#2🇨🇳 ChinaChina$63,82717.7%
#3🇯🇵 JapanAsia-Pacific$24,9926.9%
#4🇩🇪 GermanyEurope$14,6604.1%
#5🇬🇧 United KingdomEurope$14,3414.0%
#6🇫🇷 FranceEurope$13,7293.8%
#7🇮🇳 IndiaIndia$12,6143.5%
#8🇮🇹 ItalyEurope$11,3583.1%
#9🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America$8,5732.4%
#10🇪🇸 SpainEurope$7,7722.2%
#11🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia-Pacific$7,3022.0%
#12🇦🇺 AustraliaAsia-Pacific$7,2022.0%
#13🇹🇼 TaiwanAsia-Pacific$4,0621.1%
#14🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEurope$3,8771.1%
#15🇳🇱 NetherlandsEurope$3,7191.0%
All Other Countries$56,58515.7%
Global Total$360,603100.0%
Top 15 wealthiest countries.

The above table is kind of useful, when you see that the USA controls almost a quarter of the world’s wealth, but with only around 4% of the world’s population, that alone can give you a sense of the inequality, especially when it’s leading China in P2 whose population is more than double that of the United States.

NB – What country wealth statistics don’t show is how equally (or unequally in the case of America) wealth is distributed in a country, which is something we will consider later.

The Global Wealth Pyramid

A second visualisation Credit Suisse Produce is the global wealth pyramid

The Global Wealth Pyramid

This pyramid shows us that:

  • The top 1% of the population, or just 52 million people (those worth more than $1 million) control 43.4% of the world’s wealth
  • The next 11.4%, or 590 million people (those worth from $100 000 to $1 million) control 40.5% o the world’s wealth
  • The next 34%, or 1.7 billion people (those worth from $10 000 to $100 000) control 14.7% of the world’s wealth
  • The poorest 53%, or 2.7 billion people (those worth less than $10 000) control only 1.4% of the world’s wealth.

The richest 1% own 43% of the world’s wealth

The visualisation below (courtesy of the global inequalities blog, link below) does a good of showing how few people control how much wealth, and how many people control so little:

Wealth controlled by Ultra High Net Worth Individuals

The graphic below zooms in closer on the very very wealthy. We see that those worth more than $30 million, just 0.002% of the world’s population control over 7% of the world’s wealth!

Definition of ‘Net Worth’ or Wealth

According to the Global Wealth Report, Net worth, or “wealth,” is the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts.

This figure includes the net value of all the assets a household owns if sold and their private pension fund assets. The figure does not include any state entitlements/ benefits or state debts.

Discussion Question:

What is the best way to visualise global wealth inequalities?

Sources

  • Credit Suisse: Global Wealth Report 2020, linked above
  • Global Inequalities blog – does a nice job visualising some of the stats in the Credit Suisse Report. NB the stats above are from the 2019 report, but that’s not too long ago and I like them!
  • Visualcapitalist – produced the excellent football like visualisation of wealth inequalities by country!

The impact of Coronavirus on Global Wealth

This post focuses on a recent report produced by Credit Suisse. It is primarily written for students studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology, and is meant to serve as an update on Global inequalities!

In 2019, Privately Owned Global Wealth had grown to $399 trillion, an almost 9% increase on the previous year, according to Credit Suisse’s latest 2020 Global Wealth Report, which focuses on both wealth trends to 2019 and the impacts of Coronavirus on wealth up until June 2020.

That 9% increase from 2018 continued a long term trend of increasing wealth over the last two decades. In the year 2000, global wealth stood at $118 trillion (at current US prices) and has risen on average by 6.6% per annum since then, with a significant decrease (and subsequent recovery) in 2008 with the financial crisis.

NB – wealth is not distributed evenly and the map below shows the median net private wealth per household in different countries in 2019,

The impact of Coronavirus on Global Wealth

The Global Wealth Report notes that to June 2020 Coronavirus has cost the global economy around $8 trillion, in terms of what economic growth was predicted to be.

We see a rapid decline in global wealth per person January to March, when Coronavirus was taking hold, but then a recover, as governments around the world stepped in with stimulus packages.

The chart above also shows you that we’ve basically just had zero growth in wealth since from 2019 to June 2020.

However, you can see that by June 2020 there has been a decline in wealth per person of around $3 000, compared to projected growth which never happened!

The Economic Impact of Coronavrius on Different Regions

The chart below shows the impact by region

The impact of Coronavirus up until June 2020 seems to have been minimal on most regions if we compare the 2019 projections with the actual figures to June 2020.

The global average decline in wealth to June 2020 is – 2%, and most regions have seen around a 2% decline, compared to what was expected, overall we simply have almost 0 global growth compared to an anticipated 2% increase!

There are minor variations across regions, but nothing too significant according to the figures above!

There are significant variations by country

However, if we look at the impact of Coronavirus on wealth by country, we do see significant differences emerging:

The above chart shows us that to June 2020 the UK’s average household wealth declined by 7%, while China’s increased by 4%. Meanwhile the USA has seen almost no change to private household wealth!

This infographic shows the biggest percentage gains and losses per individual by country

We can see some dramatic variation here, with Brazil and South Africa’s per person wealth declining by around 25%, supposedly due to Coronavirus, while quite an eclectic mixture of countries have seen their individual wealth increase by 5%

NB – the figures look more dramatic if you look t the dollar amounts:!

Projections for future wealth growth

The Global Wealth Report is optimistic about future growth potential in most regions, especially India and China

How valid is this data?

NB – this report is latest based on available data, but it was written before the latest wave of lockdowns in November 2020.

The report is very clear that these global wealth trends could change dramatically depending on how Coronavirus and the societal reaction to it develops!

You need to be sceptical I think about the focus of this report – it is on global wealth, rather than global poverty, if you look at the later (poverty not wealth) you realise that there are millions of people around the world who are being pushed into poverty because of Coronavirus (more of that later!) – but you miss out on this in this report because it’s been written mainly (I think) for a Western audience, and you get the impression that’s everything is OK.

This report by Alianz and the World Bank gives you a different impression, talks of a ‘wealth buffer’ which insulates the wealthy from the worst effects of the economic downturn caused by the Pandemic, but it also talks about how millions of those towards the bottom are being pushed into extreme poverty.

You might remember that above the Credit Suisse report shows a negative 2% economic growth rate in Africa, then says nothing else about it – well, that basically means a LOT more people pushed into poverty, which is what the Allianz/ World Bank report focuses on!

Note: Definition of ‘Net Worth’ or Wealth

According to the Global Wealth Report, Net worth, or “wealth,” is the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts. This figure includes the net value of all the assets a household owns if sold and their private pension fund assets. The figure does not include any state entitlements/ benefits or state debts.

If that wealth average wealth were distributed equally then every adult would have around $77 000. H

In 2019, Privately Owned Global Wealth had grown to $399 trillion, an almost 9% increase on the previous year, and continuing a long term trend of increasing wealth over the last two decades.

Coronavirus has made the rich richer and the poor poorer

30% of those with savings of more than £12000 before Coronavirus have seen their savings increase since the pandemic, compared to only 10% of those with no savings.

This is because the closing of so many shops and restaurants has meant high income households have had reduced opportunities to spend their money and so have been forced to save.

It’s also because those able to work from home are more likely to have higher savings rates and home-workers have been the least impacted in terms of income by Coronavirus.

Coronavirus has increased the debt levels of the poorest

21% of those in lowest income households have had to increase debt in the last few months compared to only 13% of those in the highest income households:

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of statistical research which suggests broad support for the Marxist view of society.

Sources

The above statistics are taken from a recent ‘Rainy Days’ report by the Resolution Foundation.

The report examines the long term trend in inequality in the UK and then the impact Coronavirus has had on inequality.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Winners and losers from the cancellation of A-level exams

The evidence suggests that if you’re white and middle class you’ll do OK out of A-levels being cancelled, not so if you’re BAME or poor.

The Coronavirus may not discriminate, but the social response to it probably will, and this could well be the case with the recent decision by the DFE to cancel A-level exams.

Universities will now rely on a combination of GCSE results and predicted grades from schools and colleges in order to determine which students qualify for which degree courses, and this will benefit some more than others.

The winners

If you’ve been working hard all year and had a decent mock exam grade (which would have been sat very recently in most centers) then you’re predicted grade should at least match the grade you would have got.

If you suffer from exam stress, dyslexia or any other ‘condition’ that may mean you under perform in exams compared to your ability, then your predicted grade may even be higher than what you would have got.

If you’ve got an unconditional offer from a university for the course you want, and you’re happy enough with your predicted grades then you’ve just been gifted two free months of your life, although you may not be able to do what you want with those two months, like going outside for example!

In general I’d say that the next two months of A-level teaching are actually the most pointless thing in terms of useful skills and knowledge – you would have literally spent two months cramming knowledge into your head and learning exam technique, both skills being utterly useless in any real life content, work or otherwise.

You’ve been spared that, however….

The losers

This article in The Guardian suggests that predicted grades tend to be lower for black and minority ethnic students and for those from poorer backgrounds, compared to those students from white middle class backgrounds.

The argument is that teacher stereotypes, or labelling if you like, mean that BAME student’s grades are under-predicted, and so these students tend to do better than expected in exams, an opportunity now lost to them. (Yes they may get a chance to sit some kind of exam in the Autumn, but that might be too late).

The article further suggests that those who are privately educated are more likely to have an unconditional offer and that those with ‘pushy parents’ are more likely to negotiate their children higher predicted grades from the schools, drawing on cultural capital theory.

And I do feel for home educated or self-studying students, who probably have no record of past achievement and no mock exams to fall back on, especially if they messed up their GCSEs and are returning to A-levels maybe after taking a year or a few months out.

Conclusions

The DFE, exam boards and UCAS are all aware of how a university entrance system based on predicted grades discriminates against certain students, I just hope they put measures in place to combat this.

We won’t know how effective any anti-discriminatory measures have been until we can compare the ‘results’ and UCAS entrance stats for this year with last year, assuming that data will even be published?

Social Problems facing Britain in 2020…

My top 14 social problems facing Britain in 2020:

  1. Pollution and the environment
  2. Inequality, low pay and poverty
  3. Inflation/ cost of living/ especially housing
  4. unemployment and underemployment
  5. Race relations
  6. The Ageing population
  7. Crime, law and order
  8. Mental health – depression/ anxiety (/suicide)
  9. Sexual inequalities
  10. Drug and alcohol abuse
  11. Lack of faith (trust) in government
  12. Immigration/ overpopulation

This is a ‘first thoughts’ off the top of my head ranking based on a combination of what I know about these social issues and social theory/ research evidence.

Also, this isn’t comprehensive – I’ve taken the above from the Ipsos-Mori September 2019 survey – so really this is my ‘top 14’ social issues as identified by 1027 members of the British public in 2019.

This is what the British public thought were the most important social issues in September 2019….

Actually not quite, I’ve added in mental health and sexual inequalities just because I think they deserve a mention, unlike at least 95.5% of the British population sampled last September!

A broadly Marxist Rationale for my Ranking

I’ve put pollution and the environment at number 1 as if we don’t stop living within planetary limits soon we’re just lining up more social problems in the future – the more we consume and pollute the fewer resources there are to go round and the fewer resources the more inequality, the higher the cost of living, the more social unrest and so on.

Inequality comes second following Wilkinson and Picket’s work in the Spirit Level – inequality seems to be the number one variable correlated with all other social problems. I’ve included poverty with inequality as (simplifying to the extreme) in Britain we only really have relative poverty, which is a function of inequality.

At three is the ultimate economic challenge – keeping the cost of living down. I think this is fundamentally related to inequality – for example landlords owning several houses and renting them out make themselves rich while impoverishing their tenants.

I’ve included unemployment and underemployment at four as these is these are not only fundamentally linked to inequality, but also a future challenge as technological change strips out jobs from the economy.

Race relations goes in at five because Racism does still exist and it is the most common tool for scapegoating the causes of all other social problems. If we can just get rid of silly notions of Racism, the masses might direct their attention at the elites who create most of our social problems.

The ageing population is next as it’s something of a ticking time bomb – we haven’t yet addressed as a society how we are going to pay for the increased health and social care costs of people in old age in the context of a less favourable dependency ratio in future years.

To skip to the final two, I regard these as positive things – lack of faith in national politics I think is a necessary precursor to more decentralized, autonomous solutions to social problems and as to immigration and migration more generally, not only can this solve the ‘problem’ of the ageing population, I think in general we need more of it – if nothing else to combat the problem of racial prejudice!