Disadvantaged Children’s Life Chances Blighted by COVID-19 and Cost of Living Crisis

The likelihood of improving social mobility for disadvantaged school-aged children is bleak, a major new report looking at the impact of Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis has warned.

Source > Children & Young People Now

By Nicole Weinstein

June 1, 2022

Researchers for the Sutton Trust say that the education system has “failed” to act as the “great social leveller” despite their belief that “specific education schemes and schools can transform young people’s lives”.

The dream of doing better in life is “disappearing” for young people growing up in the early 21st century due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and looming cost of living crisis, the report adds. 

It also forecasts that income mobility levels in the UK could fall by as much as 12 percent driven by stark divides in Covid learning loss in schools, which could represent a “step-change” backward compared with other countries.

The report Social Mobility – Past, Present and Future, published in the run-up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sutton Trust, compares the prospects of young school children born shortly after the Queen began her reign. 

This generation enjoyed a “golden age of upward mobility” fuelled by expanding opportunities in society, researchers said. 

By comparison, today there are “still large gaps by family background” in the likelihood of climbing the income ladder, ending up in a higher social class, securing a university degree, or owning a home, the report adds.

Children of parents who have graduated university are twice as likely to graduate themselves compared with those with parents who have not while family stability and positive parental investments are associated with “higher chances of future upward mobility”, the report says. 

The gap in home ownership rates between those who grew up in rented accommodation compared with homes owned by their parents has also doubled between 2000 and 2017, posing a threat to social mobility for future generations, researchers warn.

However, in some areas, such as social class and education, there have been some “small” improvements in recent decades.

Researchers argue that long-term education policies will be needed to support the most disadvantaged pupils and improve the transition between education and work, as well as helping parents to support learning in the home. 

The Sutton Trust is calling for a stronger focus on young people who do not go to university, to offer them better routes to advancement and future success in the workplace. 

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said that it is “increasingly clear” that stark learning losses suffered disproportionately by poorer pupils during the pandemic will leave long term scars for current generations.

He added: “Unless radical action is taken, our research suggests they face worsening mobility prospects.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “This new research shows how far opportunities are still determined by background – and shockingly predicts a fall in income mobility for poorer young people driven by the impact of the pandemic and more recently the cost of living crisis.” 

He added: “Massive government resources should be applied immediately to the millions of young people who have suffered throughout the pandemic. There is no time to lose. As a matter of fairness we have to give these young people a chance and a poorly educated and unskilled workforce is a drag on the economy.

“Looking beyond Covid, it is vital that we make the most of the talents of all young people. This should include introducing long-term education policies which support young people throughout their education and into work, along with an increase in the number of degree apprenticeships and bolstering support for those who do not go to university.” 


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