The Circular Flow of Inequality

Though ahead of some of its peers in labour market flexibility, Britain has long been plagued with income, geographical, and class inequalities. Those born into working-class families are less likely to go to top universities and by extension land a top job to propel themselves higher up the ladder. For the sake of impartiality, I should preface this introduction with a few caveats. One, things are improving to an extent on this front, with universities actively extending outreach schemes, while private school entries to Oxbridge are dropping considerably. Two, top law firms, consultancies, and banks are actively aiming to promote diversity in the workforce; though the extent to which this is working to combat income inequality is rather subjective. With the recent news about cuts in Universal Credit, high inflation, and the energy crisis, this topic is more relevant than ever as millions of families face a dilemma between going hungry or staying warm.
Firstly, let us examine the political situation in the United Kingdom. A prevailing view in society is that those in power should reflect the people of the country they have been elected in, perhaps lessening inequalities. Evidently, this is not the case with Johnson’s government, with just over 2/3rds of the cabinet having been educated privately, with privately educated individuals making up 7% of the population. Equally, as of the 2017 election (data has yet to be released for the 2019 election, though is due shortly), 29% of MPs (189 of 650)[1] had been born into a family where they could afford to receive a paid education during the formative years of their lives. Does this show a greater ability in those from more well-off backgrounds to get into politics, meaning that those from poorer backgrounds continue to be under-represented? Does the presence of the wealthy in politics ensure higher barriers to entry for the working classes? Perhaps a solution would be to promote the importance of politics in state schools, allowing for greater awareness of topical issues, and enabling a change. This could free us from the cycle of wealthy individuals gaining power and continuing to place high barriers to entry on positions of relative power.

Educationally, the very best UK universities are still dominated by the upper and middle classes. Given these universities typically provide the best chances for individuals aspiring for social mobility, this is rather problematic. 5 years ago, for the 2016 intake: Oxford accepted 42% of their new cohort from private schools; thusly proving that private, fee-paying schools are given a much easier ride into Oxford. Continuing with these, look as far as the offers made by Oxford’s Magdalen College to pupils from these elite schools: with a whopping 25 offers from the college in 2018 going to students from Eton and Westminster, and Cambridge’s Trinity College offering 19 places to Westminster pupils [2]! This is evidence that a lack of access to the upper echelons of higher education is exacerbating inequalities, as a cycle emerges where poorer students are disincentivised from applying to these universities, causing lower admission rates. Though this argument does not paint a pretty picture, it is crucial to note that things may be improving on this front. Cambridge confirmed between 71 and 72 per cent of its new UK undergraduates will have been educated in the state sector, up from 70.6 per cent in 2020. Other top universities have announced similar results, with the University of Warwick confirming that approximately 20% of its population are privately educated. Perhaps this will result in the cycle of inequality eventually being broken, though these state-educated students are typically at a disadvantage when compared to their privately educated peers when it comes to careers. Ultimately, more needs to be done for working-class students. Though it is impressive to see the bursary systems offered by top universities, more should be done to widen participation. A system wherein a university has a certain quota of state-educated pupils could be efficient, but may be electorally unpopular. A solution to the cycle of inequality is far easier said than done.

Yes, we see a slight change within how society is treating the working class and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. No, there isn’t enough being done to allow full class mobility. Ultimately, to cause these grand changes in society; we require someone to take the steps towards allowing greater movement between the classes, however: when the politics in this country continue to be dominated by the aristocracy of those from upper-class backgrounds; we remain stuck in this cycle, trying to escape our class; ensuring the circular flow of class division ultimately remains, until we see some real change.


Author: Aaron Singh

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