Work inexperience: the Clegg plan
When I got round to reading the coalition's new social mobility strategy, it was a relief to discover that it was not as bad as Nick Clegg's fronting of it. You can tell where he comes from when you read him thundering on about internships being fixed up at the golf club or tennis club -- or complaining about social opportunity being determined by "who your father's friends are". What has happened to influential mothers in Clegg's world I wondered? And if only the problem was restricted to the tiny proportion of the UK population who belong to a golf club or tennis club . . . but, hang on, isnt the government supposed to be supporting these sports??. (It's the young Clegg above by the way, in the picture.)
The Cabinet Office document itself wasn't quite so silly, and was oozing with New Tory good intentions. But it was also loaded with problems and contradictions.
First: the definition of social mobility.This turn out to be a wonderful sort of movement, as it is in one direction only: that is upwards. In fact, so it is defined in Chapter One: "Social mobility is a measure of how free people are to improve their position in society." (my italics) And all the graphs and data track only the percentage of people who do BETTER than where they started out.
Nice try, but mobility (especially in a recession) means people going down as well as up. In fact, may be the reason we have been so bad at achieving the upward sort, is precisely because we have thought about it as uni-directional. So lets have some data please on the downwardly mobile too, and wonder about how we should manage that -- and indeed wonder about what being downwardly mobile actually means. (I think this is what D. Willetts was trying to get at when he got rounded on last week by many of my friends: social reforms have victims as well as beneficiaries).
Then there are those damn internships.
The real contradiction here was between the villainy of the middle class dads who try to get their kids a leg up in the world and the way the first chapters of the Cabinet Office paper was all for parental investment in the childs progress in the early years. It seemed that the coalition's idea is that Dads should be positively encouraged to learn nappy-changing and more advanced parenting skill with the under 5s... but back off the help for little Johnny or Jessica later when it comes to getting them a job. How likely is that?
But maybe we shouldnt worry too much. The whole document was based on the idea that internships and work experience were a real leg up in the world of work. Perhaps they are for some; but for most people I suspect they are a dead end of being given mindless, invented jobs by people who simply cannot think of some interesting and useful task that the twentieth untrained intern they have seen that year can possibly be set to do. And try talking to any teacher about setting up work (in)experience schemes -- as required by al sorts of government initiatives -- for the nation's 16 year olds.
If I was going to do someting (upward) social mobility for the disadvataged, frankly I would leave the internships to the golf club crowds and concentrate on the GCSEs.