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Social Mobility in the Labour Force Survey

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Data, Social Mobility, Transparency

If policy makers are to develop effective policies to drive improved social mobility it is essential that there is a good understanding of current patterns of mobility and about how well the Government's policies are working in delivering on this goal.

Improving data on social mobility was a key theme in the Government’s social mobility strategy, which took a number of steps including introducing a number of social mobility indicators to track progress over time and providing funding for the Life Study - a new Birth Cohort Study that will track more than 80,000 babies born between 2014 and 2018.

This theme was continued in the May 2012 update to the social mobility strategy. It established a “Social Mobility Transparency Board”, chaired by the Minister for Universities and Science and with membership drawn from government and academia, to help break barriers to sharing data. This has had some impact in driving action to open up and link data together to better understand social mobility. It also committed to “explore the potential for including a new question looking at social background in the Labour Force Survey to inform our social mobility indicators and to allow more detailed academic research into how social background plays out in labour market outcomes and how this plays out over time”.

Two and a half years on, that commitment has become a reality, with the July-September 2014 quarter of the Labour Force Survey including a number of questions on social mobility, looking at the occupation of respondents’ parents when they were growing up.

This is a very positive development which the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission strongly welcomes. There is much interesting analysis that could be done using this data which could be a game-changer in significantly improving our knowledge of social mobility and the impact of social background in the labour market, the effectiveness of policies aimed at improving social mobility, and – ultimately – this will improve the ability of government to make a difference.

It could help answer a range of important questions relevant to policy – especially if the new Labour Force Survey questions are repeated annually rather than being a one-off exercise - including about:

  • Inter-generational worklessness.
  • Trends in social mobility over time and across peoples’ lives.
  • The impact of social background in the labour market over and above the impact through educational qualifications.
  • Regional differences in social mobility.
  • Differences in experiences of labour market trends by social background over time e.g. unemployment increases or entries into work.
  • Other analysis looking at the impact of/correlation between social background and other Labour Force Survey variables.

However, as yet it seems that there has been little or no exploration of this data and what it tells us in the month that it has been available. The ONS did not report on the data in their Labour Market Statistics release and have no plans to do any analysis of it in the future. And it is not yet clear what plans the Government has for using the data as part of its social mobility strategy or whether it will carry out or publish any analysis of it.

It would certainly be a shame if such a rich resource that can answer so many interesting policy questions about social mobility were left locked away untapped in the vaults of the ONS. Let us know if you have done or are planning to do anything with the data.

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  1. Comment by Stephen McKay posted on

    These interesting new variables don't appear to be in the LFS currently available from the UK Data Service. I think it is common for new variables to be retained by ONS for a while before public release. Though, of course, I'd be happy to be wrong on this. I have downloaded the data and these variables/questions do not appear to be included. Next step would be to ask ONS or the Data Service what is going on with the new questions ...

  2. Comment by Colin Mills posted on

    Indeed. I second Stephen McKay's observation. In fact I would put it a bit more strongly. If the CMCPC have not had sight of the data, what hope for the rest of us? ONS actually has quite a track record of hiding away social mobility related data in the non public use versions of the LFS. For example information on whether or not a child has maths and english amongst their GCSE passes is only included in the secure access version of the data which is really rather tedious to get access too. Secure access is a reasonable requirement when there is a genuine risk of disclosure, but I find it difficult to understand how knowing whether an otherwise anonymised respondent to the LFS has passed their maths and english GCSE could be in any way disclosive. After all birth month and detailed geographical location are removed from the public use data (which is reasonable - they are potentially disclosive) so knowing quite a lot of detail about a relatively common event (like passing some particular exams) is not going to increase the chance of revealing someone's identity by a significant amount. Pressure really needs to be put on ONS to be more reasonable and consult more with actual data users. It's absurd for a government to have something like the CMCPC and then for one of its departments to keep highly relevant information out of the public domain. In fact it's the sort of think that makes citizens rather cynical.

  3. Comment by jon posted on

    if policy makers removed policy that discriminate on background would be a start.

    For a start anyone from any background being able to go to university currently the uk government will prevent people from some background going to university irrespective of income or even parents income.

    Its always interesting that you have been dream external causes look for reasons, some of which may be the case. Yet the same people have not got their house in order.

    In some of the more mobile societies anyone from any background can attend university and choose any subject they want to do as some europeans counrties allow. In the uk you have to be over 25 to have equal rights by default. Under 25 and government can refuse funding for any reason including illegal ones.

    The UK government is still refusing to lift restrictions, still breaching the equality act in 2015.

    The more bad policy in the pipe line from milband who wants to aggressivly attack individual rights and freedoms of certain groups so dont hold a lot of hope at the next election for any removal of these bad policy.

    Much of the civil services social mobility rearsch consists of this dreaming up reasons why poor social mobility based around the people they discriminate against.

    Sure even in a discrimatory system people may do better, however the elephant in the room is the government and civil service, you have universities and civil servants doing reasrch when they dont even need to step out their own office they can look at their own guidance and see what much of the problem is.

    The same university proffesors who stare in the aybs pondering social mobilty then go to interview a student and apply discriminatory critiera based on background. The oxbridge hobby based interviews, alumi only funding.

    Even getting funding for universities for all the nonsense universities operate, drug, drink programs and help programs, and hardship funding that the first critiera is not being in hardship because they universties will not give funding those who have had funding cut from civil service on discriminatory basis.

    The british universties are almost as big disgrace as the british government and civil servants and much of the mystery with poor social mobility in the uk is far from mystery as the very people being funding to the run the projects or civil service running it is central to the problem.

    Ban british civil servants and outsource to non british universities and may get some sense.

    The government discriminate against certain groups through policy much legacy instread getthing their house in order they try and pass the buck on to the individual.