‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘down and out’? Look back to see the future ……

Frances O’Grady suggests we are heading for a ‘Downton Abbey style’ society…..well she would say that, would she not m’lord.

I’m not sure we can compare contemporary society to that of Britain at the end of the First World War and into the 1920’s, however, I agree we are headed in a direction reminiscent of the inequality of a hierarchical past founded on wealth.

Alan Milburn recently suggested the UK is “deeply elitist” following an analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders.  Small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate top roles, suggests the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study.

‘Cosy club’

Commission chairman Alan Milburn said the UK’s top jobs remain “disproportionately held by people from a narrow range of backgrounds”. “The institutions that matter appear to be a cosy club.” Some 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs hold Oxbridge degrees. In contrast, less than 1% of the whole population are Oxbridge graduates while 62% did not attend university, says the study. However, this does not mean such people should not be in these positions, just that not everyone has the same opportunity to reach such positions of power.

One of the reasons ‘ordinary’ people do not get into such positions of power is related to poverty, and the associated powerlessness that accompanies poverty.  Research suggests many in society are struggling to attain a basic level of control over their lives, concerns over how to feed the family and heat the home this winter will be the focus of many parents’ efforts. Add to this the fact that about half a million children of school age do not have a computer or internet at home to do their homework, and that many of those homes are damp and in poor condition, and we can begin to understand why for some in society O’Gradys comments may seem very pertinent.

Factors such as poor housing, food and fuel poverty and relentless financial insecurity has a detrimental affect not just the life chances of those who experience them but on wider society. Not many of those in the ‘cosy clubs’ headed by Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg or Mr Miliband have any understanding of how grinding poverty feels. How could they when it is estimated Mr Cameron has a net worth of nearly 4 million, whilst Mr Clegg lives in a £1.5 million townhouse (no worries over a cold winter for either of them I’m guessing, well apart from whether it will affect their election chances), and with suggestions Ed Miliband is also a millionaire maybe Frances O’Grady has a point after all……

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