Last Monday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) released a report titled: UK Poverty 2017. The report touched on a plethora of issues relating to the rise of relative poverty in the UK. However, one of the biggest elements of poverty explored in the report were the findings on social mobility. In Britain in 2017, 30% of children live in poverty. JRF defines poverty as ‘When a person’s resources (mainly their material resources) are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs (including social participation).’ Poorer sections of the population often struggle in almost facet of life possible. It is not new knowledge that poorer people have worse life expectancies, poorer diets, a lower standard of education and more stressful personal relationships.
The best way to get to grips with this phenomenon is to understand why exactly growing up in a certain postcode or borough has such an effect on the economic and social prosperity of a child in the future.
There are two necessary prerequisites for social mobility to occur. The first being the presence of opportunity i.e. the access to the level of education and employment that will allow individuals to elevate their relative position in society. The second is personal motivation, to seize the opportunities that are presented to an individual.
When the topic of social mobility is broached the psychological aspects of growing up in poverty aren’t explored as extensively as perhaps they deserve to be. We can probably draw our own conclusions as to why that is! (Research means time and money and no-one wants to spend time on the poorer classes.) For those of you familiar with the literary technique pathetic fallacy, you’ll know how fiction authors attribute human emotion to physical objects to set the mood in a scene. In a similar vein, children who grow up in deprived areas, are often surrounded by tired architecture and filthier streets. Our surroundings automatically illicit a response from us and sometimes, people (and particularly children) can convince themselves that their current situation is indicative of both their worth and the limit of what fruit their effort can bear.
The report also touched on the effect poverty has on the quality of relationships. One of the most striking findings related to child-parent, and parent-parent interactions:
“Children in lower-income families are more likely to report that they quarrel with their parents and do not discuss important issues with them. The proportion of couples experiencing ‘relationship distress’ is higher in the poorest fifth of the population and decreases as incomes rise.”
The paradox of poverty is that by simply being entrenched in the effects of it, makes escaping poverty even less likely. In other words, the poor stay poor. This carries on into long lasting psychological, social and physiological effects, trapping the afflicted in a pernicious cycle.
Speaking from the perspective of a second generation African immigrant, ambition is almost a by-product of the culture I was raised in. I recognise that not everyone is privileged to have been installed with a mentality that anything is possible with hard-work. But when your only choice as an immigrant is to work three times as hard to get half as far as other people, hard-work becomes part of your DNA.
Networking is a vital component of career advancement. Birds of a feather flock together. We shouldn’t forget that. Often children who are raised in deprived areas seldom have the opportunity to mix with influential people, particularly in professional, high-paying sectors such as banking, corporate law and communications. The difficulty for disadvantaged people breaking into the highest paying sectors goes beyond mere connections. The cultural and social differences apparent between those from two starkly different social classes can itself act as a barrier when attempting to break into a particular career field. Working adults are all too aware of the importance of an organisation’s culture and even qualities as such as an accent can prove to be a barrier for career advancement and thus social mobility.
Statistically, wealthier neighbourhoods have superior schools. Children in these areas are more likely to achieve better grades which in turn often leads to better Universities, life choices and finally career paths. It has been empirically proven that university graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates.
The barriers that exist for the working-class in deprived areas are not unbreakable. I have experienced firsthand the wealth of talent that exists in deprived communities. It is simply a matter of tapping into that potential. We as a society must make it the cultural norm to tell children they can achieve far beyond what they have ever known. Regardless of whether or not it will materialise. Ambition will take them far. The will of the politicians must match the will of the campaigners. Words must become actions, and recommendations the law. Perhaps then we’ll be able to move and graduate from a lifetime of poverty.