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Britain’s younger generation is in danger of being worse off than its predecessors, the government’s head of social mobility has warned, pointing to stagnant wages, significant geographical inequality and the impact of London’s “overheated” housing market.
Alun Francis, chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, an advisory body, said many younger graduates were feeling that “the social mobility narrative is no longer working” and said policymakers needed to come up with new ideas to help people on the lowest incomes. .
In his speech ahead of the commission’s annual State of the Nation report, which will be presented to parliament on Tuesday, Francis said there have been “winners and losers” across society since the 2008 financial crash.
But he added that “the idea that this generation will be better off than the previous generation is actually up for debate.”
“That has to be a priority for us,” he said. “We need to ask the question: ‘Will those at the bottom be better off than their parents’ generation?’”
The economy had to be central to that consideration, Francis said, adding that there was a link between economic innovation and social mobility, which was a key part of the commission’s investigation.
But the “biggest problem we have”, he added, was a “disparity” in economic geography, meaning “everything is so focused on London and the homelands”.
“Nobody can afford to live there; younger graduates going to London are starting to become disillusioned and lose confidence,” he added. “They’re starting to feel like the social mobility story is no longer working; [they] I can’t buy a house.”
The likelihood that a young person will enter the housing market is expected in the report to be determined to a much greater extent than in the past by whether the parents own their home.
The committee will provide a mixed picture of trends among different social groups and in different parts of Britain. Francis said policymakers did not have sufficient insight into how the British economy varied from place to place.
While young people in London, Edinburgh and Manchester are more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a similar socio-economic background elsewhere, the committee is also expected to highlight that all three cities still struggle with levels of poverty and disadvantage.
Francis said the bottom 20 percent of earners nationally – many of whom leave school without basic English and maths skills – should now be at the “core” of policy.
“A lot of the provision targeting the most disadvantaged people hasn’t changed that – I think they’re missing this,” he said of previous efforts to improve mobility among the lowest earners. “I think we don’t have enough ideas about how to change the outcomes.”
A “couple of Dick Whittington stories” did not mean the country was fair, he said, adding: “We do know that wages have been sticky for a long time. . . and that is the basis of many problems.”