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.