Meritocracy or Aristocracy?

Dominic Raab MP has today launched a new pamphlet he has written for the Social Market Foundation called the Meritocrat’s Manifesto. It suggests that people who are arguing for less economic inequality do not give sufficient weighting to individual freedom and meritocracy and are instead interested in “social engineering”. The reality is that campaigners for greater equality are following an evidence based campaign to increase social mobility. If you compare the policy proposals outlined in the Meritocrat’s Manifesto to proposals from equality campaigners, it’s difficult to see how one can be called “social engineering” and the other not.

The best evidence on social mobility suggests that the UK has one of the worst rates of social mobility in the developed world. It’s also clear that countries with lower levels of income inequality have higher rates of social mobility. The evidence is also clear that some of Mr Raab’s proposals, for example academic selection in schools, both increase inequality and decrease social mobility. This is not because, as Mr Raab suggests, the areas selective schools are currently in are too middle class, as the evidence suggests poorer children do worse in selective schools than they do in other schools. If Mr Raab wants to improve the private schooling system he would do well to consult the Berlin wall Manifesto put together following the New Statesman’s debate on private schooling, which contains proposals to actually increase social mobility and decrease the advantages of people from privileged backgrounds. These suggest simply removing academic selection from Mr Raab’s proposal, not some drastic programme of “social engineering”.

There are some areas where Mr Raab is on the right path. He is right that equating university with success is misplaced and he has suggested some good ideas to help tackle this problem. The Equality Trust would add to his proposals that we should support people in vocational education at least as well as we support those in university education. Student Loans which students are only required to pay back if they are earning a decent wage, should be available to those doing vocational courses as well as those studying at a university. The additional money from a living expenses loan could be a crucial step in making vocational courses more appealing, with 60% of those in vocational education citing studying costs and living expenses as important factors in their decisions

We also agree with him that marginal tax rates are too high for some. That’s why we agree that on national insurance contributions the lower limit should be raised. But we also recognise that in a time when government funds are low, taxes will have to be raised on those who can best afford it and that’s why we think the upper limit on national insurance should be raised to make it a progressive tax rather than one that hits the richest least. In our two upcoming reports on the taxation system we will show the evidence that suggests that the public support reforming the tax system to make it more progressive and that this would not be harmful for the economy as Mr Raab fears. These changes would help make the UK a more equal place and make sure that every child has a greater chance to succeed.

Tim Stacey, Policy and Campaigns Officer.