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Climbing the social ladder – how about even being on the ladder?

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  November 18, 2013 |

The social ladderAnother week in the news, another discussion about social mobility. Across the political spectrum there is apparent consensus that not enough is being done, that too many people from privilege continue to dominate politics, business, media etc. What the debate often misses is recognition that some disadvantaged groups, such as Gypsies and Travellers, are excluded almost entirely.

Quite rightly the debate about social mobility focuses on education. There is widespread agreement that where you go to school massively impacts on later life chances and similar agreement that this is a problem. What about those who do not get the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the education system at all though, whether due to bullying, insecure accommodation or a failure to positively engage with their interests and values? There is rightly much talk about the harm of poor schooling but let us reflect on those who face barriers in accessing any schooling.

There are also significant and unjustified barriers to progressing in the world of work or public life more generally. Whilst poorer and more disadvantaged persons face obstacles, Gypsies and Travellers are often largely excluded from being able to engage at all, let alone given the opportunity to progress. Whether the rules around self employment, scrap dealing, completing tax returns or obtaining appropriate insurance, Gypsies and Travellers clearly face disproportionate barriers in simply earning an honest week’s work in the way they wish.

Similarly, there is plenty of talk about how there are more private than state educated persons in Parliament but far less that some disadvantaged groups, like our members, have absolutely no political representation at the higher levels.  Poorer areas often have less of a voice than more affluent ones but what about those roadside or even on formal sites, whose voice is undoubtedly ignored almost entirely?

Social LadderI am anxious to stress that this is not about victim culture and certainly not about bemoaning limits to what this community can achieve. Indeed, many Gypsies and Travellers have been very successful in business, sport or culture, of which there are some fantastic examples. It is also not simply about being able to ‘get ahead’ or climb the social ladder in any case. Rather, it is about people being able to progress in which ever fashion they wish.

Recognising the barriers which the community face in achieving this and overcoming them is the priority amongst all the words and discussion about social mobility. A far from straightforward task of course but a worthwhile challenge and precisely the reason why organisations like GATE exist.

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