YouGov regularly tracks public opinion on social mobility and according to their last three years of data, young people especially think that equality of opportunity in the UK is on the decline.
The trend is DRAMATIC…
In January 2022 68% of 18-24 year olds thought that their life chances were ‘broadly determined’ by their parents socio-economic background – this is up from 59% when asked the same question in August 2019.
Only 13% of 18-24 year olds said there are equal opportunities in January 2022, down from 23% in August 2019.
In just two and a half years, these are pretty large changes in opinion with lots more young people supporting the view that social class has an impact on life chances.
Interestingly the trend for all age groups is much more stable…
This suggests that young people’s views are shifting away from older people’s – meaning there is an increasingly different perception in life chances.
NB this survey tells us nothing of the actual social reality – it doesn’t tell us which perception is correct – I’m inclined to think this radical change is down to the restrictions placed on society due to the government’s chosen response to Covid-19 (‘Lockdown’ and school closures).
Maybe those 18-24 year olds are more in touch with younger people who were hugely impacted by these restrictions and this is them expressing that difference.
Whether or not there really has been such drastic reduction in equal opportunities for young people we will have to wait many years to find out, unfortunately.
However I am reasonably certain that equal opportunities haven’t improved over the last three years!
The problem with this is that the original documentary aired in 2015 on Channel 4, which means that this isn’t necessarily a valid reflection of what is going on today.
The same can be said for a second documentary: Posh and Posher which was uploaded to YouTube by in 2021 despite being aired originally on the BBC in 2011.
To my mind the former is more worrying as the account has almost half a million subscribers with the video having received 4 million views, meaning that’s a lot of people with a misleading impression of when it was shot.
The second example at least has many fewer views and is just on someone’s personal account which makes the credibility of it easier to dismiss.
Beauty verses Expertise…
As a teacher I’m not against non experts having a go at explaining concepts they are not qualified to explain, encouraging students to do this is part of teaching after all, and there’s nothing necessarily inaccurate about what the person in the video below says….
But I can’t help but think the the number of views in this case is due to the pretty face rather than depth of subject-knowledge?
And there are just so many of these videos from non experts – not necessarily in the ‘speak to the camera’ format, some in cartoon format and it isn’t necessarily the case that the person with the most knowledge is going to get the most views….
That which is the most fun to watch isn’t necessarily the most valid!
I actually found the video below interesting – and it’s recent – post Jubilee from June 2022, and one of the subjects even references a book on social class directly.
The problem is I think it cuts off early!
The tendency to focus on the ‘Upper Class’
I get it: posh people are interesting, but I guess they are interesting because they are different, rare, unusual. And there are a lot of videos about posh people on YouTube – but in sociology we are usually more interested in how class affects the masses – so the working classes, middle classes, but there is something of a saturation with the minority class that you need to filter through…
You might think using YouTube’s Filters would help to get some useable material…. especially if you search by date…
However, I personally found this revealed how biased many of the videos are – and NB there is nothing inherently wrong with people uploading videos with bias, stating their opinions on social class in the UK, and it’s maybe even more useful than you think seeing how obvious this is when you get your search returns contrasted with each other.
And that of course reminds us that even a well researched, well formatted documentary that has been professionally produced has its biases, as does the most professional sociological academic lecture that might appear on YouTube too.
And something else you’ll see more of if you search by date is students own work and exam advice on ‘social class questions’ from teachers, all of which may be more useful to students than ‘regular documentaries’ or educational videos from teachers.
Using YouTube as a Teaching Resource: Final Thoughts..
While I wouldn’t dismiss YouTube out of hand, as a teacher it is your responsibility to double check your sources – and be especially wary of well branded accounts such as ‘Our Stories’ which appear to be legitimate educational accounts but in reality may well be just hack accounts which cut and paste anything for the views and advertising revenue.
Having said that – you can still use the whole YouTube ‘educational’ experience as a good example of hyperreality – what you get is a timeless mis-match of documentaries some contemporary, some presented as contemporary but actually 10 years old; and some based on legitimate research and worth watching, others put together by amateurs with little critical attention.
And very final word, maybe, just maybe, this whole experience shows us that there is something in the Postmodern view that there really is no way of telling what is ‘true’ anymore, if, indeed, there is any such thing as truth – all you get with YouTube is a confusing mix of timeless resources with different biases and no way you can ever review them all or dig-down into the validity, or lack of validity, for every single video that’s been uploaded!
Maybe it’s best just to rely on your Text Books – if you believe they are any less hyperreal than YouTube.
good resources for teaching wealth, poverty, income inequality and social class. Useful further reading for students studying A-level sociology!
Here you will find links to some contemporary sources for further reading organised into the following categories
Annually published statistics and reports
News articles from the last five years (often based on the above)
Videos and Documentary resources
Committed organisations dedicated to studying this specific topic.
I will endeavour to update this list at least every three years, but with so much material already on ReviseSociology.com this might be a challenge!
These resources are intended for students studying an introduction to A-level Sociology – for the main blog posts introducing the topic of social class and inequalities please see the relevant links on the introduction to sociology page.
Annual research studies on income and wealth inequalities in the UK
The Heat or Eat Diaries from The Guardian – a varied series written from a mixture of people living in poverty, academics and journalists.
Working class people feel like they ‘don’t’ fit in’ to middle class working cultures – An excellent article from The Conversation based on research into how middle class cultural capital makes working class people feel like they don’t belong in middle class jobs – because of cultural differences rather than their ability.
The Made in Britain Series from The Guardian gives video cameras to those who are themselves living with the cost of living crises and supports them to make videos of their own lives. I’m not sure what research method you could call this – video diaries I guess, with technological assistance from professional film editors?!?
Panorama – Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis (2022)
Why are so many people living in Poverty? News Night (2021)
How does student debt affect life-chances? – Links to education and social class inequalities – and yes, as you may have thought, being in debt because of having to pay fees does have a detrimental affect on your future life-chances.
The Pupil Premium provides extra funding to schools to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children in England and Wales.
Both Local Education Authority Schools and Academies in England and Wales get the following Pupil Premium Funding (2022 to 2033 figures)
£1385 (primary) or £985 per pupil who is eligible for Free School Meals (or who has been eligible within the last six years)
£2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who has been adopted from care or left care,
£2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who is looked after by the Local Authority.
Payments for the first two above are paid directly to the school ( the later to the LEA) and school leaders have the freedom (and responsibility) to spend the extra funding as they see fit.
Approximately two million school children qualify for the Pupil Premium:
How the Government expects schools to spend the Pupil Premium?
There are three suggested areas:
General teaching – school leaders are allowed to just spend money from the Pupil Premium on recruiting more teachers or support staff, or training.
Targeted Support for disadvantage pupils – this is probably what you imagine the funding being spent on – things such as extra tuition in small groups for specific children, probably those who generate the Pupil Premium
Wider areas – such as Breakfast Clubs or helping fund the cost of educational trips
Schools are required to publish online statements outlining how they have spent their Pupil Premium Funding.
Pupil Premium: The Theory
The pupil premium is the main government policy to tackle the educational underachievement ‘caused’ by material deprivation.
This educational policy recognises the fact that children from disadvantage backgrounds face more challenges and achieve lower grades than children from more affluent backgrounds.
Children who are eligible for Free School Meals are from the lowest 15 – 20% of households by income, so they will probably be living in relative poverty, and some of them will be experience material deprivation.
The government gives most of the money straight to the schools with such disadvantaged children, allowing school leaders to pick a strategy that they think will work best for their school, as one solution won’t work for every school!
The Pupil Premium: Does it Work?
This 2021 Parliament Briefing summarises seven reports on the attainment gap and the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the Pupil Premium.
On the positive side, it notes that the attainment gap (between disadvantaged and non disadvantaged children) has come down in the last ten years, since the Pupil Premium was introduced, BUT this trend alone doesn’t necessarily mean it was the Pupil Premium which led to this.
Moreover, the report notes that the recent school closures following the government’s choice to lockdown the nation as a response to the Pandemic have almost certainly impacted disadvantaged children more, and it’s unlikely that the Pupil Premium will be sufficient to make up for this.
Besides this vaguely positive note, there is a lot of criticism of the Pupil Premium too, and four stand out:
Firstly, a lot of schools are spending the money to plug gaps in school funding, so not targeting it at disadvantaged students, but just spending it on general school needs.
Secondly, many reports point out that lack of school funding is the problem and the Pupil Premium doesn’t make up for this.
Thirdly, a lot of the money, where targeted, is being spend on Learning Assistants, but apparently this isn’t the most efficient way to help disadvantaged students.
Finally, some reports criticise the accountability aspect, schools don’t have to be too specific in outlining how they spend the money.
It is also relevant to the education and social class topic, but be careful as the Pupil Premium is only designed to tackle material deprivation, not class inequalities or differences more broadly, and relative deprivation/ material deprivation are only one aspect of the more broader concept of social class.
So we’ve got a new Wimbledon Champion in waiting in the form of Emma Radacanu – but don’t get too excited, she doesn’t break the trend of the English Middle Class Norm. .
For a start, Radacanu grew up and started playing tennis in Canada, where social class is much less entrenched, and in any case her mother (Chinese) and farther (Romanian), neither of whom are from Britain originally, and both of whom work in Finance, are firmly part of the global middle class, who just happen to be resident in Britain ATM.
So she just carries on the middle-class tradition in British Tennis…. all the way back as far as I can remember until Tim Henman who was quintissentially middle class – home counties, dad a solicitor, privately educated, own tennis court in his back garden.
No, it seems that elite tennis just isn’t for the working classes.
It explores the history using a literature review and ethnography in one local tennis club, and it’s the later I find the most interesting.
The author found that members of the club would enforce a set of social norms beyond playing the game that worked to exclude non established members – for example it was frowned upon to not have a drink after a game, but in the bar established members rarely spoke to newer members.
Appropriate etiquette was also a big deal, meaning appropriate middle class norms of behaviour.
It’s noted that the grass courts were kept open for any member and their children to be able to play on during the summer, but these were heavily policed by senior middle class women, and children had the lowest status in the club, they were hardly encouraged to play.
The ethnography doesn’t extend to professional tennis, which may well be class-neutral, but the point is, tennis clubs are one of the few means whereby people without their own tennis courts at home are going to be able to get into tennis, and this local tennis club blocked ordinary children from being able to do this.
The primary function of this club seemed to be for middle class women to exercise their power and status over others, through ignoring and excluding those they deemed to be inferior, which was pretty much anyone not like them.
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?
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.
A recent 2019 study into the causes of violent crime in London found that the proportion of children under 20 living in poverty was the main factor correlated with levels youth violent crime in London Boroughs.
The study was conducted in 2019 by the Greater London Authority, and it took a public health approach to analysing the ’causes’ of increasing levels of youth violence in London from 2013-2017.
Defining and measuring violent crime
The study took a broad, multi agency approach to defining and measuring violent crime. ‘mapping’ their definitions of violent crimes here:
They also used many different sources to identify the upward trend in violent crime, such as hospital admissions for knife attacks, given that so many of these go unreported…
If you know anything about London, it’s already obvious from this chart that it’s the poorest areas such as Hackney and Croydon with the highest rates of youth violence, and the richest areas such as Chelsea with the lowest…
The main ’causes’ of youth violence
The study did a borough wide analysis, as the stats for violent crime were by borough, and found that all of the boroughs in the top ten for youth violent crime also had above average amounts of under 20 year olds living in poverty.
The main factors correlated with youth violence, in order of importance were as follows:
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a useful update for social class and crime: poverty may only be one aspect of social class, but this study does suggest that more violent crime is committed by the working classes.
This study seems to offer broad support for Left Realism – deprivation and marginalisation register as being highly correlated with levels of youth violence.
Limitations of this study
Already, two years on, the data is four years old, as it only goes up 2019. In this online age, this should have been organised via an Artificial Intelligence so the data is updating automatically!
This only focuses on Youth violence, not crime more generally, so it is not representative of all crime.
Marxists might criticise the study as having narrow definitions of violence, focussing only on street violence and domestic violence, rather than the state-sponsored military violence instigated from the borough of Westminster.
This study might be a little biased – it seems to be coming from a Left Realist Perspective on crime, and (funnily enough) supports a Left Realist view of crime!
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:
a received pronunciation (RP) accent and style of speech
emotionally detachment and an understated self-presentation
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!
Pupils from the lowest fifth of households by income are twice as likely to fail both English and Maths GCSE.
The United Kingdom government does not routinely collect statistics on the relationship between social class and educational achievement!
Instead, we have to rely on statistics which use ‘proxy-indicators’ to look at the relationship between household income and educational achievement, rather than the relationship between social class and educational achievement.
Two sources we might use to to examine the relationship between social class and educational achievement are:
Free School Meal (FSM) achievement rates compare to non FSM achievement rates
Data on independent school results compared to government schools results.
Problems with relying on income as a proxy for social class
Both of the above statistics measure income alone, rather than the broader concept of social class.
Household income is related to social class, but income alone does not tell us exactly which social class someone is from. Some parents might work in traditionally ‘working-class’ jobs which could be very well paid, such as the building trades; while other parents might be earning a limited amount of money working part-time in traditionally middle-class jobs – as private music teachers for example.
Also, income does not necessarily tell us about the cultural aspects of class – how well educated parents are or how much social and cultural capital they have, for example.
Thus you must remember that household income indicators are only proxies for social class, they may not show us precisely what a child’s social class background is.
Achievement of free school meals pupils
In 2022 only 29% of Free School Meals (FSM) pupils achieved grade five or above in both English and Maths compared to 57% of non Free School Meal Pupils. This means that non-FSM pupils from higher income households are twice as likely to pass both English and Maths compared to FSM pupils from lower income households.
Similarly, only 26% of FSM pupils are entered for the higher status English Baccalaureate compared to 43% of non-FSM pupils.
Parents in households with a gross annual income of no more than £16190 were entitled to claim for Free School Meals. This means that all children from households with parents on benefits and some children with parents working part time in lower income jobs will be eligible.
22.5% of children were eligible for Free School Meals in 2022, which is just over 1/5th of all students. Thus the blue bar above represents the poorest fifth of children and the red bar represents the richest 4/5ths.
Limitations of Free School Meals statistics
One limitation is that it FSM eligibility is based on gross household income, so it doesn’t tell us about poverty differences within this group based on disposable income. For example, if one household owns their house outright they would have a lot more disposable income than a household with a mortgage.
A further limitation is that you are not getting a detailed comparison, you are only able to compare the achievement of the poorest 20% with the achievement of richest 80%.
It would be better if you could compare more categories, so the poorest fifth, the next poorest fifth and so on. If you did this you would probably see a wider achievement gap between the poorest fifth of children and richest fifth.
Independent School Results Compared to State Schools
Pupils attending independent, fee paying, schools get much better GCSE results than pupils attending normal academies or LEA controlled ‘comprehensive’ schools.
In 2021 more than 60% of GCSEs awarded to pupils attending private schools achieved a grade A, compared to only 30% of GCSEs awarded to pupils attending academies or LEA maintained state schools (approximate figures), and the gap between private and state schools is increasing.
It’s interesting to note that non-selective state schools (or the 150 so state grammar schools) get proportionately more A grades at GCSE than the private schools, but there are very few of these grammar schools)
In order to afford the fees to get your children into an independent school, you have to be comfortably in the top 10% of households, hence comparing the results allows us to explore the relationsip between income and educational achievement at the top of income scale.
There are a few scholarships for pupils from poorer households, but not in significant enough numbers to skew the overall comparison, it’s mainly rich kids attending these private schools.
Top 10 independent schools for A-level results
If we look at the very top, very expensive schools we see that money really does buy you a very good chance of achieving 3 A-levels at A-A*, with the top ten schools and colleges all having a 90% success rate at that level.
Although it will cost your parents a minimum of £15K a year to get you into one of those schools.
One advantage of the above stats is that it’s much more likely that you’re seeing the solidly upper middle class in these schools, rather than this just being about income.
However, this is at the same time a disadvantage as we cannot isolate variables. We can’t be sure the extent to which is is purely wealth and income influencing these results, or cultural capital.
One thing is for sure: it is not just the raw intelligence of the pupils attending these schools, they are being gifted with an enormous educational advantage compared to students sitting A-levels at regular state colleges.
If we use the above data, we can see there is a drastic difference in the achievement rates at the very top and the very bottom of the household income scales.
IF we think household income is a valid indicator of social class, we can also say there are huge social class differences in educational achievement based on the above statistics.
However, we don’t have systematic, annual data on the relationship between the vast majority of middle income households and educational achievement.
The lack of consistent monitoring could be due to our neoliberal government trying to disguise the truth that there is a clear difference in educational outcomes by social class, which in turn is due to social class inequalities in society, which is something neoliberalism is happy to maintain.
The relationship between social class and educational achievement is one of the main topics within the sociology of education at A level.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “families are classified as materially deprived if they feel they cannot afford a certain number of items or activities, with greater weight assigned to items that most families already have.”
According to the IFS, between 8-15% of households are suffering from material deprivation, depending on what threshold you use. (If you want to know how the thresholds are worked, out click on the link above!).
In order to figure out how many households are suffering material deprivation, households are asked whether they can afford a number of items, such as the ones below. The more items a family can’t afford, and the higher up the list they appear in the chart below, the more likely a family is to be classified as ‘materially deprived’.
You can see that there is a downward trend in material deprivation between 2010-11 (careful, the chart above is over a longer time scale!)
The above study focuses on the trends in material deprivation as well as trends in both absolute and relative poverty. All three indicators are different ways of measuring poverty.
*A fuller definition of material deprivation is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.
I wrote this back in 2015, it’s my old version that I didn’t want to delete! It shows you some different, historical definitions/ measurement of material deprivation
The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:
To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
To keep their home adequately warm,
To face unexpected financial expenses,
To eat meat or protein regularly,
To go on holiday for a week once a year,
A television set,
A washing machine,
As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased.