With all the talk about support for the middle class in this country, it’s instructive to remember that according to many counts, the US middle-class is both smaller and less accessible to those climbing up from the bottom than is the case in other developed economies. Still, concern about the worsening plight of the working and lower classes is much more pronounced in places like the UK, as this Observer opinion piece evidences:
Middle-class grip on professions ‘must end’
Too few working-class students become doctors and lawyers, according to Downing Street, which wants to consign the old-boy network to history
Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
The Observer, Sunday 11 January 2009
She was doubtless just as nervous as any other student on work experience, but the sober-suited blonde spotted walking through Lincoln’s Inn Fields, headquarters of the British legal establishment, just before Christmas was not just any old intern.
And the role taken by Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry’s girlfriend, at Farrer & Co –solicitors to the Queen–was not just any old placement. The next day’s newspapers pondered uncharitably how many Leeds University students would have got the same break.
Davy might well, of course, have owed her luck purely to her legal skills, but the cosy networks helping many children of the professional middle classes into successful careers – the summer job in the City, the internship that is never openly advertised, the unpaid gofer job in the theatre eased by parental subsidy–are now coming under scrutiny.
A review of barriers to working-class entry to the professions, led by former cabinet minister Alan Milburn, will investigate not just visible causes of social inequality–children from the highest socio-economic group are nearly three times more likely than those from the lowest to get good GCSEs, and six times more likely to go to university–but more insidious factors. Its conclusions will feed into a white paper on social mobility being launched this week by Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne.
Its timing during a recession is provocative, but senior Labour figures have long wrestled with this dilemma. Last summer the then arts minister Margaret Hodge began privately arguing for government assistance for poorer children breaking into the arts, amid fears that creative careers were too often reserved for those whose families could support them while they worked unpaid.