White, poor, underqualified and unemployed? Trevor Phillips wants to help.

The head of Britain’s equality and human rights commission, the esteemed Trevor Phillips, has identified a new target group that needs protecting: the white underclass. He is being quoted in today’s Guardian with the following:

“We need to look out for the wife or partner with a young child, whose husband may have lost his job or who fears that he will, or who finds that the bills just don’t add up unless he goes back to work.

“When she applies for work, is rejected for job after job in a slack labour market, yet sees a clever young Latvian or Lithuanian with two degrees and three languages doing the job she’d like to do, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out how she’ll feel.”

The article continues:

Similarly, while the Bangladeshi girls who made it to university did brilliantly, there was an underclass of teenage white girls who would not make it into higher education after the birth of their first child, he told the CBI conference.

This can be explained with one word: Ambition. To this day the immigrant community in the UK has a strong impetus of attempting a better life for themselves and their children. If this is only achieved by hard work, discipline and long hours so be it. What counts is that the next generation will be better educated and that the hard work will result in a better quality of life and standing within society. This is something that large swathes of the ‘aboriginal’ British inhabitants have abandoned. There are now large geographical pockets in the UK (Dewsbury, West Yorkshire is used by the press as an example of these places without hope) where a child can pretty much forget of ever achieving a life of regular employment, planned pregnancy and an above average life expectancy. In their 2005 study “Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America” [1] Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Stephen Machin came to the conclusion that Britain and the UK were at the bottom of the table of the developed nations when it comes to social mobility. One of their findings was

“Intergenerational mobility fell markedly over time in Britain, with there being less mobility for a cohort of people born in 1970 compared to a cohort born in 1958.”

It is not enough to throw billions of pounds at secondary schools to improve them, as

“The expansion of higher education since the late 1980s has so far disproportionately benefited those from more affluent families.”

This means that the role of the state is limited at school level. It has no way of incentivising parents to help them securing their children’s future. A drastic (but successful) option would of course be the Brasilian model, in which benefits are only paid out if children have good school attendance and regular attend their GPs for health checks, but an incentive like that would make the Tories yell ‘Nannystate!’ (as the Tories of course never had any interest in the lower echelons of society apart from keeping them healthy enough to work in a factory. How can Social Mobility be interesting for a party that still cherishes Thatcher’s mantra “there’s no such thing as society”).

So, is Britain looking at a future where the middle class is made up of third generation immigrants? There are areas in London where this has already happened. Does that scare me? Not particularly. The only thing I dread is when millions of disenfranchised Englishmen (and Women) blame the immigrants for their ambitions and vote for the BNP.

So, what to do? Well, throwing money at the problem doesn’t seem to be an answer. Social cohesion can’t be achieved with government money. I remember a Sociologist in New Zealand having blue sky ideas about reducing teenage pregnancy with mandatory contraception, but that would take social engineering probably a bit too far. Religion? Don’t think so: Evangelical Teenagers seem to have more pregnancies as their enlightened contemporaries (as if we didn’t know).

So maybe it IS time for the Brazilian model: according to the Guardian Weekly it consists of

“The bolsa, which was launched in 2003 and is officially known as the “conditional cash transfer”, is straightforward. The state pays a monthly grant to “poor” or “very poor” families on the condition that their children attend school and have up-to-date vaccination records. The size of the subsidy depends on a family’s income and the number of children. “

Throw in an X-Box and one game for each passed GSCE, and Robert is your dad’s brother.

[1]Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Stephen Machin: Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America; April 2005; http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/newsAndEvents/archives/2005/LSE_SuttonTrust_report.htm

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