Friday, 3 December 2010

Frank Field's report on poverty and life chances - unthinkable and essential

Today, former Labour minister, once pushed out of the Blair government for thinking the unthinkable and coming up against Treasury conservatism, has published the report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances which he was asked to lead by David Cameron.

The report,'The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults' sets out, according to Field's website to "prevent poor children from becoming poor adults" and proposes "establishing a set of Life Chances Indicators that will measure how successful we are as a country in making life's outcomes more equal for all children." This is truly radical, and that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have welcomed both these recommendations is welcome and bold.
I hope that what Frank Field's report is heralding is an openness to taking policy steps which genuinely seek to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and poor life chances in Britain, rather than merely deal with the symptoms through a bloated and ineffectual welfare state. Frank Field, above all other politicians, has the moral courage and intellectual fire-power to undertake this challenge and it was an inspired move of the Prime Minister's to give him this task. I am no supporter of Cameron or the Government, but it is highly unfortunate that the previous Labour Government saw fit to leave Frank Field on the backbenches ever since his sacking in 1998. The fact that the Labour Party ignored the abilities of the MP who is one of, if not the most respected public intellectuals in the area of pensions, poverty and welfare reform, was shameful and is shocking testament to the petty rivalries and discourtesies which litter the British political system.

Frank Field's report tackles the early years. I would like to see work now done on how we might make Britain a genuine meritocracy. It would be unfortunate if the very young people who would benefit from his measures being implemented, found that they were unable to make the most of their lives when they reached teenage years due to the incredible iniquities of the British school system, in which a tiny minority of children whose parents happen to be wealthy are able to leapfrog over their compatriots into the best universities and then into the best and most influential jobs (up to and including Prime Minister). I talk, of course, about private schools - the single most significant impediment to making Britain a country in which people can rise up as far as their talents take them. It is impossible perhaps, in a free society, to abolish such schools. But until more is done to overcome the structural inequality of opportunity made possible by private schools (and as identified by the Sutton Trust and by Alan Milburn's ground-breakingreport), Britain will continue to languish.

Elites are inevitable and indeed necessary. It is not inevitable, nor is it necessary that they must largely be formed by those whose parents are wealthy. Britain will not be a truly civilised society until there is equality of opportunity, and that is, perhaps the next stage that must be addressed following this report. It will, of course, be much more unpalatable for the ConDem Government. But that is another story.


  1. The Equality Act 2010 aims (claims?) to advance equality of opportunity.. in fact it claims:

    (2)The responsible body of such a school must not discriminate against a pupil—

    (a)in the way it provides education for the pupil;

    (b)in the way it affords the pupil access to a benefit, facility or service;

    (c)by not providing education for the pupil;

    (d)by not affording the pupil access to a benefit, facility or service;

    (e)by excluding the pupil from the school;

    (f)by subjecting the pupil to any other detriment.

    Do you believe the mere existence of private schools means this law is broken?

  2. Young Miss,

    That is a really interesting point, thanks. I suspect that private schools will have an opt-out of this particular law, for otherwise, they would of course fall foul of any objective understanding of equality of opportunity. I think these ideas need to be aired more and more.


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