The report of Alan Milburn’s inquiry into social mobility in contemporary Britain is deeply depressing. It charts the extent to which this is an unequal society. As Ian Jack observes.:
Many of its statistics are shocking. Only 7% of the population attended private schools, but 75% of judges, 70% of finance directors, and one in every three MPs went to one. And unto those that hath, etc: among nine out of 12 professions examined, particularly medicine and the law, the proportion of entrants coming from well-off families has been increasing; doctors born in 1970, for example, typically grew up in families with an income nearly two thirds higher than the average. Connection matters. ‘Soft skills’ in interviews matter: how to be confident, how to please. Unpaid internships and work experience schemes, particularly in glamorous professions such as the media, tend to be monopolies of the well-connected. Milburn describes it as “the closed shop society”, with a geographic bias towards London and the south-east.
Jack is as astonished as I am by one finding of the report relating to the mainstream media:
Figures 1F and 1G in the report. The first shows that more than half of “top journalists” were privately educated. The second shows how this proportion has actually increased since the 1980s – alone among eight professional categories, including barristers, judges and vice-chancellors.
As far as this phenomenon is concerned, the decline of the print media looks like a consummation devoutly to be wished. Once the stranglehold of the print and journalistic unions was broken by Murdoch & Co, the closed world of British national newspapers was transformed into an environment tailor-made for shoehorning well-connected Oxbridge kids into cushy roles. With a bit of luck this agreeable system of outdoor relief will wither on the vine: these brats won’t find the online world quite so accommodating to folks whose main qualification is an assumption of entitlement and superiority.
But the wider problem laid bare with scarifying clarity by the Milburn report remains. And nobody — and this includes Milburn — has any real idea what to do about it.