In the 2019 Social Mobility Commission (SMC) ‘State of the Nation’ report, analysis showed that just 34% of people from working class backgrounds work in professional occupations, compared to 60% of those from professional backgrounds.
It also highlighted the issue of ‘double disadvantage’ – in which the SMC looked at the interaction between class, gender, ethnicity, and disability on employment and pay prospects – and the fact that these interactions exacerbate existing levels of disadvantage within a socio-economic context.
Since that report was published, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an overall increase in inequalities. To focus on social mobility in this article, in a briefing by the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE in May 2020, concerns were raised about the ‘Covid generation’ being pushed into declining social mobility levels and rising economic and educational inequality – which will lead to long-term damage if shorter and longer term policy interventions are not made.
Who needs to take the lead in countering this – potentially spiralling – concern (which further data and research is likely to corroborate)?
In the 2021 ‘Social Mobility Barometer’ commissioned by the SMC, 53% of respondents said that central government should be doing more to improve social mobility and provide opportunities for everyone, and 42% said local government. An increasing number of people thought that employers should have to take action; 42% in 2021 compared with 31% in 2019.
Businesses alone can’t change social mobility prospects (we’ve suggested some steps that businesses can take in a previous article, here). Neither can schools. Or charities. Or governments. But the compound effect of an increasing number of parties supporting, and investing in, social mobility can.
That’s why one of the themes of our Social Mobility Action Plan is about collaboration - ‘our clients, our communities’ - and is one of the reasons we’ve launched the Shoosmiths Foundation. Through the Foundation, we’ll be making grants available to registered charities which, in the first funding round, are focused on social mobility. Learn more about the Shoosmiths Foundation (and how to apply).
The Shoosmiths Foundation builds on our existing long-standing community investment programme (which supports local charity partners through employee fundraising and volunteering, firm donations, and provision of pro bono legal advice), as well as building on our long-standing commitment to social mobility (read about our approach here).
As with our Social Mobility Action Plan, it is important that we are evidence-led in the audiences and projects we choose to support, and we know that charities which are working directly in their communities will be best placed to guide on where that support is most likely to make a difference.
By partnering with others working in this space, such as directly funding projects through the Foundation, taking on volunteering or pro bono engagements, or delivering thought leadership, we can invest in and support a far greater number of people.
Through the firm’s involvement with the Social Mobility Pledge, and more recently, the development of the Levelling Up Goals, we’ve also been thinking about what is needed to advance, and importantly, improve measurement, around the social part of ESG framework.
Leveraging partnerships and networks and thinking holistically about the ways in which business can advance social mobility, will be necessary to create a compound effect across the UK. Combining efforts and investments, both in time and funding, as well as increasing the quality of impact measurement, will enable sustained progress.