The Social Mobility Commission has advocated for a fundamental overhaul of child welfare benefits and substantial investment in education to ensure that disadvantaged children and young people are at the centre of the government’s recovery strategy.
Its State of the Nation report 2021, published yesterday (20 July, 2021), the SMC details the devastating impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the United Kingdom’s four countries and warns that the effects will last decades.
Attainment disparities between disadvantaged and rich children are already increasing at school, and young people from less affluent homes are more likely to lose paid job than their more affluent counterparts, the study finds.
The Commission asserts that the government, businesses, and educators must move immediately to save the next generation from decades of misery, beginning with an end to child poverty.
Almost one in every three children (4.3 million) currently lives in poverty, up 700,000 from 2012. According to the organisation, the poorest families and their children have suffered the most over the previous 18 months and should be assisted first.
The SMC notes that the UK government went deep to fund billions of pounds for furlough programmes and company assistance and should now do the same to fight inequality and boost social mobility.
The Commission, an independent advisory body to the UK government, suggests eliminating the two-child limit on Universal Credit and child tax credit in order to avoid penalising bigger families.
Additionally, it recommends boosting each child payment covered by Universal Credit by at least £10 per week in order to assist the poorest families, as well as increasing child benefit in the same amount.
The £14 billion programme would assist 1.5 million youngsters escape poverty and many more from abject poverty.
However, the Commission proposes a range of additional measures to assist disadvantaged families, including expanding early childhood care; increasing funding for school children living in long-term poverty; establishing a student premium for 16-19 disadvantaged students; expanding digital access; and building three million additional social housing units.
It acknowledges that difficult decisions must be made but maintains that more taxes should be charged only on those who can afford them.
The Commission identified seven critical pillars for recovery and made specific recommendations on geography and local power, poverty and living standards, early childhood education, apprenticeships and adult skills, internet access, and job and career advancement.
Additionally, the SMC asks the UK government to prioritise social mobility and these suggestions as part of its strategy for levelling up.
The Commission has repeatedly emphasised the critical nature of addressing spatial inequalities and applauds the UK government’s efforts in this area. However, it wishes to guarantee that levelling up involves as much investment in people as in infrastructure.
The suggestions, which are based on the work of the SMC over the previous three years, summarise what Commissioners feel are the most critical levers for boosting social mobility in the coming years.
Sandra Wallace, interim Co-Chair of the SMC, said: “Now is the time to take action and we must not shy away from difficult decisions. Now is the moment to level up opportunities for children across the country.
“Ending child poverty and investing significantly in education are two of the most impactful and influential things the UK government can do to improve social mobility.
Steven Cooper, interim Co-Chair of the SMC, added: “A recovery programme presents a chance to put social mobility at the top of the agenda, but it will have to be a group effort.
“It will require commitment from government, employers, educators and local leaders to ensure young people have greater access to opportunities from school to employment.”
Commenting, the SNP’s Shadow Fair Work and Employment spokesperson, Chris Stephens MP, said: “This report concludes what we already knew about this UK Tory government: they are failing millions of children across the United Kingdom.
“The SNP has long called for the recommendations made in this report, including for the Universal Credit uplift to be made permanent and extended to legacy benefits, and for the two-child cap to be scrapped to lift millions of children out of poverty.
“However, the Tories refuse to heed the overwhelming evidence and have instead spent billions of pounds on increasing nuclear weapons stockpile and red, white and blue vanity projects such as yachts and jets.”
He added: “If the Tories push ahead with the Universal Credit cuts – instead of investing in children as the report recommends – millions of children across Scotland and the UK will be worse off, poverty and inequality will worsen, and put beyond doubt that they have absolutely no intention of building a fair recovery from Covid.”