Inter-Generational Structural Inequalities Hinder Young People – What Does This Mean for Social Mobility?
This week has seen a renewed focus on the structural inequalities which are ‘trapping’ many of our young people today in poverty, with little chance of escape.
The TUC has released headline figures from a report that states that the number of children from working households growing up in poverty is set to rise to 3.1 million this year, up from 2.1m in 2010. The findings state that of this extra million, 0.6m are a direct result of government policies affecting all workers, but especially those working in in the public sector who have been subjected to a pay cap.
The flip-side of this narrative is that the current employment rate of 75.4% for all 16-64 year olds is the highest since comparable records began in 1971. However, the unemployment rate for those aged from 16 to 24 years has been consistently higher than that for older age groups.
A separate report by the Resolution Foundation also shows a fairly bleak picture for many of those who are aged 16 – 24 and do find work; any such work for people of this age is often more likely to be in atypical, insecure, work, or in lower paying sectors; typified by zero hours contracts, and multiple part-time employment roles. These are the roles that are increasingly affected by, or most at risk of, automation. Regardless, the proliferation of insecure, low-skilled work, and multiple roles leads to labour market stagnation as fewer younger workers are moving jobs or moving up the career ladder than previous generations. The overall result is less pay in real-terms for young people moving into the labour market today; this somewhat negates the fact that there are presently higher employment rates and a decreasing gender-pay gap.
Yet, alongside greater employment rates, other traditional indicators of ‘social mobility’ are also improving; the percentage of those with degrees is increasing, and the percentage of those with no GCSE qualifications is decreasing. However, whilst university education is a benefit in entering the labour market (at the expense of student debts) it is decreasingly a guarantee of competitiveness in entering the Labour market at a higher level; the amount of graduates working in non-graduate positions has risen from 41% in July to September 2002, to 49% in July to September 2017 – meanwhile, the number of graduates overall has increased.
If high-level education is no longer a guarantee of equivalent employment, and if secure, agile employment in itself is no longer guaranteed with lower educational levels, then traditional indicators of social mobility may need to be rethought within the contexts of society’s structure today. One good example can be found in the latest ‘State of the Nation’ Social Mobility Report, in which it is shown that structural inequalities between regions leads to better teachers conglomerating in particular areas of the country to take advantage of better schools with higher pay. Areas that suffer are less likely to attract more qualified teachers, and less likely to keep any teachers they do attract.
Taking labour and education into account therefore, there has quite simply there has been;
- A growing trend of inequalities that affects young people’s chances from the start; especially in certain regions where educational and deprivation levels are lower.
- A saturation of mid and high level opportunities for many of those entering the labour market, the ‘supply’ of which is outgrowing the ‘demand’ of degree qualified young persons. Leading to;
- Increased competition for employment at lower levels of the job market, which stagnates wages and encourages employers to practice lax job security measures, and,
- a markedly lower guarantee of high and / or secure earning capacity via a degree (especially outside of the Russell Group Universities); meaning the £50k average debt and 3 years forfeited income and experience of most graduates is a further hindrance.
Whilst a jobs:employer ratio cannot be simplified so easily to a zero-sum game, the outcomes are clear. Certainly one small adjustment, that may prove to counteract against some of these issues, are the increasing amount of apprenticeships which, in theory, provide an appropriate level of specific training for particular jobs; how they will affect future earnings potential is yet to be fully seen. In the present, apprentices still largely require parental financial support and are affected by potential benefit reductions, penalising an already low paid area.
Housing is another area in which the chances of upward social mobility and personal security has been affected by shifting markets. The average house price (all types of housing) has risen from £167,888 in Feb 2010, to £225,047 in Feb 2018, an uplift of 25.4%; the private rented sector in England has steadily increased from 17% of housing stock in 2010 to 20% of housing stock in 2015; owner-occupier homes have decreased steadily over the same period. More significantly for our purposes, the percentage of households with children in this sector has, over the same period, grown from 30% to 36%, equating to c. 0.95m households. The percentage of available income attributed to rent is also increasing.
Quite simply, the picture is again bleak; if education determines employment opportunity, and employment determines the means to afford a house then the stagnation further down the chain will have a compound effect where an increasingly entrenched housing market is considered. A report recently stated that 1 in 3 millennials will never own their own house.
The problems do not just affect those attempting to get onto the property ladder, but also those renting; 17% of youths who lose their housing status do so due to arrears or loss of rented accommodation.
As the issues are structurally entrenched, and are not solved simply by gaining employment, the Resolution Foundation report calls for a restructuring of inheritance tax and age-related social security taxes, alongside others, to gradually address the imbalance; more immediate action is proposed through a fund of £10,000 boost to the ‘millennial’ generation to be used on education, housing, or self-start up business costs.
However, intergenerational and structural inequalities leave large gaps, ones which need far more holistic attention than a cash boost (£10,000 is nowhere near enough to cover education, housing, or business start-up costs, and subsequently there will be many young persons who would not properly benefit as a result). Reversing some of the structural inequalities is a theoretical possibility, but wounds always take longer to heal than they do to open up. It would be a slow and painful effort.
As structural remedies take time, it is therefore vital that those who are already being left behind are given some relational support in the present moment, After all social mobility has, at its most reductionist, two conceptions; a person’s position within their ‘structure’, i.e. their ‘class’; or their relationship to others, i.e. their ‘culture’. If we cannot fix class based ‘social capital’, we should focus on cultural capital to help people understand their own strengths, worth and the possibilities open to them; that they are given guidance, advice, or even a place of belonging.
It is in this light that Civil Society should work. It should not just be a ‘bridging’ exercise; where those with more help those with less; it should also be an exercise in which the gap is closed somewhat.
High quality Youth Workers are thus needed more than ever to help work with young people stuck in the spaces that structural inequalities open up, whether regional, economic, or social; especially as many of the skills needed to navigate life in these new societal structures are not ones taught at school, and are not ones that can be experienced easily from a position of inequality.
 https://www.tuc.org.uk/blogs/new-tuc-analysis-reveals-child-poverty-set-soar-1-million-eight-years [accessed 08th May 2018]
 http://www.oecd.org/employment/future-of-work/Automation-policy-brief-2018.pdf [accessed 09th May 2018]
 https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2018/02/IC-labour-market-policy.pdf [accessed 08th May 2018]
 Ibid. p. 44.
 file:///C:/Users/AdamP/Desktop/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf esp. pp. 46 – 48.
 https://www.fenews.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16896:apprenticeships-should-be-accessible-to-all-that-means-paying-better-wages-adapting-our-benefits-system&catid=13:sp-383&Itemid=878 [accessed 10th May 2018]
 http://www.smf.co.uk/ask-expert-private-rented-housing-sector-uk-ideas-countries/ [accessed 9th May 2018]
 https://centrepoint.org.uk/media/2396/more-than-a-number-the-scale-of-youth-homelessness.pdf [accessed 9th May 2018]
 https://www.ukyouth.org/2018/04/09/social-mobility-youth-sector/ [accessed 09th May 2018]