Social mobility starts before birth

Baroness Deech

I have just returned from a family law conference about parenting, at which I gave a paper on childrearing and the law.  It was entitled The Children of No-Fault Divorce.  In it I set out the results of research that show that poverty and family breakdown are major issues in children’s failure to reach their potential. In fact family breakdown is more significant than poverty, especially in the earliest years of life.  International studies have revealed the deprivation and harm caused to the children of divorce and those raised in single or cohabiting parent families.  The response of governments has been to focus on money as the solution, to fund projects for children and to try to extract more maintenance from absent fathers.  The emphasis on the children’s material wellbeing has failed to narrow the general gap in achievements between children of broken families and others. The issue of family formation in children’s success has been ignored. Poverty is one, but not the main issue in the well documented under-achievement and other problems of children of broken homes.  It is a painful topic to confront and of course there are individuals who do not conform to the statistical patterns. The remedies lie in recognition of the importance of stable family formation and in parental commitment to children’s education.  I could write a lot more on this – but I want to link these findings to the government’s drive to promote social mobility.  Alan Milburn is the government tsar for social mobility and he has targeted the legal profession in particular. As Chairman of the Bar Standards Board I have a responsibility to pronote a diverse profession.

I explained in an earlier blog Law Ladies (6 May) why there are so few women in the upper echelons of the judiciary.  The Bar has, however, been making strenuous efforts to open up the profession.  Or rather, to try to restore the social mobility that used to exist when grammar schools and free university education enabled many a law student from a poor background to reach the top.  I was myself a beneficiary.  The Bar has a loan scheme; £4.5m is given out in scholarships to intending barristers; salaries during pupillage have been increased; every school in the country is given access to career information; there are career days for schools; recruitment panels are trained to ensure no bias in the selection of pupils and tenants; data on barristers is collected and published; there is work experience and mentoring for sixthformers and new recruits.  Every effort is made, with some success.  About half the new entrants are women; 77% are white.  It is true that the retention rate of women as the years go by is worrying, but that is the case for all the demanding professions, such as medicine, which are difficult to reconcile with family life.  The Bar is proud of its diversity profile.

Nevertheless, it is still said that the profession is socially exclusive.  If this is so, and it is open to doubt, then the causes lie not in the way the Bar conducts itself, but in external factors.  First, failings in school education; second the expense of university education and study for the Bar;  and third, the cuts in legal aid which will remove publicly funded family and criminal work as a slender but reliable source of support for newly qualified barristers (especially women and ethnic minorities). But above all, note, if everyone is to enjoy social mobility, there will always be some who have not moved up as much as others.  Indeed, it is fashionable to sneer at the middle classes, so why should someone aspire to join them? Seriously, though, above all, it seems that one’s chances in life owe more to the parenting situation at birth and the care given in the first 3 years of life than to anything else that comes later.  But this is not a topic that governments are willing to address.

6 comments for “Social mobility starts before birth

  1. Dave H
    30/07/2011 at 8:27 am

    The trouble is that governments do attempt to address early years but have repeatedly failed to do it properly. For many years it’s been a case of “if it doesn’t work we need to do even more of it”, encouraging parents to send their children to daycare or playgroup for ever-longer periods starting at earlier and earlier ages instead of trying to arrange matters to encourage parents to spend time with their children in the home environment.

    You’ve emphasised the importance of family and yet successive governments have managed to sideline parents, replacing them with social workers, daycare assistants and a lot of rules and tickboxes on clipboards. The net result is a generation that has lost much of the art of proper parenting because they’ve never seen it done properly.

  2. Gar
    30/07/2011 at 5:35 pm

    In terms of the intellectual capital potential lost, by a boy child who does not have access to his educated father, through divorce court judgement, the loss is far,far greater than poverty would ever be.

    The poor have dignity and pride, but do the children of the divorced? The poor can appeal
    for help but can the child of the divorced?

  3. maude elwes
    30/07/2011 at 8:42 pm

    Social mobility starts with language and being articulate. Without that all is lost. If you cannot express yourself, you will not be able to function well.

    If you have no ability with language you are unable to understand the very basis of society. You will not be able to read, for, if you cannot comprehend the language you cannot comprehend the gist of anything on paper.

    And the cause is, as I am sure all you clever people know, Mother absent. Children who have a mother absent do not develop in the same way those who have do. A child without his/her mother feels abandoned, no matter who else is in her place. And that feeling of abandonment does not subside, it festers.

    It has been known for decades that a child who is fed, clean but unstimulated by a loving carer does not thrive. The whole basis of the method to advance human potential is based on the maximum input from the mother. As the mother is the sole centre of a child’s universe until they are eight.

    To slide around these facts is futile. Children who do well are those who have the attention and bonding with and to their family and mother is central to that need.

    One would have thought this was blatantly obvious as there are so many examples world wide.

    But of course, politically it is not a comfortable concept as feminists appear to intensely dislike the idea that mother is needed at home.

  4. Gareth Howell
    01/08/2011 at 1:04 pm

    Social mobility starts with language and being articulate.

    I hesitate to add, in present company, “knowledgeably articulate”, although it is surprising how many ignorant lawyers and accountants there are.

    Social mobility presumably means,(from Maude)
    potential to earn big money and achieve ‘status’ and ‘respect’.

    There was a time when an impoverished Earl speaking in the Lords gave the lie to that sort of thing, but not any more. It still ain’t in the least bit true, but it is harder to prove!

    Capitalist values, I am sure the noble Baroness agrees, are often far from being
    Christian ones, or those of any good faith.

    It is often the capitalist values of the individual taking precedence over the Christian/religious values of the family, that cause family break up in the first place.

  5. MilesJSD
    01/08/2011 at 6:57 pm

    I would carefully remind everyone to beware of much flawed terminology ,
    and beware of often associated-fallaciousness,
    and of often also associated deliberate and covert anti-democratic law-making:

    “Social Mobility” is a misnomer for “potential to earn big money and achieve ‘status’ and ‘respect’”(GH) more specificly it stands for “specialist straight-As braincell, pedagogic-schoolroom-trainable into lifelong closed-career-ladder-climbing, within an Earthlife-Extincting, Hedonisticly Global but ruthlessly belligerent Civilisation, based on and now being driven by, the English-speakers of the World”.

    and thereby it usurps the proper and health places of the words Social and Mobility in the human mind, and stifles their honest and appropriate application to our essentially individual and collective human lives in our 75% timeframe lifeplaces, and greatly weakens our also essential but always collective and not individual work-effectiveness in our 25% timeframe workplaces.

    “Education” and “Citizenship” are likewise doubly-crippling cuckoo-terms, each standing for “career & job training for the World-Workplace”,
    to the exclusion of life-sustainworthiness education for the Earth-Lifeplace


  6. 02/08/2011 at 8:24 am

    Equal opportunity is an important social goal at least it is to me and to the extent that this indicates unequal opportunity it is of concern. from a 2005 New York Times ..series on income mobility that shows that the United States ranks second to last ..among Great Britain US France Canada and Denmark when it comes to the rate ..of income improvement over four generations for poor families.

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