Social Mobility in the U.K.: A New Initiative by Nick Clegg

The government is aiming to reverse the growing culture of unpaid internships which favour the wealthy and well-connected.

The national internship scheme, initiated on April 5, asks firms to pay young people. If they fail to do that, they risk a legal challenge under the national minimum wage legislation. The purpose of the scheme is to make career progression less dependent on “who your father’s friends are.”

Julian Glover writes in The Guardian (April 6):

“It’s easy to say…banal things: every politician, even Brown, claims to be in favour of the opportunity society. And just because [Deputy Prime Minister] Clegg has published a long document doesn’t mean anything will happen. Liberals always struggle to explain how a philosophy that is intrinsically skeptical of state intervention on the one hand can justify it on the other. There’s an unresolved tension between the ‘freedom’ part of liberalism, and the ‘progressive’ part. Tuesday’s plan doesn’t solve it.

“There’s also a contradiction between talking up the positive side of opportunity – some will advance – while saying nothing about the negatives – some people will fail. What should be done for people who fail to educate themselves, or work hard? A liberal society of more equal opportunity will not necessarily produce more equal outcomes – just a different group of people at the top.

“But nor do Clegg’s plans deserve to be lost amid mockery of posh interns. Important and original things are under way. Raising the income tax threshold is a liberal idea: that people who earn money should keep it, rather than pay it to the state in order for some of it to be returned to them in ways ministers think fit. So is trying to measure fairness – a wishy-washy word that the coalition likes very much – in terms of what people can make of their lives, rather than the extent to which failure is compensated for by the state.

“This is broad and vague territory. But the absence of big government initiatives in the new plans could be taken not as a sign of their insignificance but their potential. Nick Clegg is right in his diagnosis of what is wrong with our society and serious in offering ideas to fix it. The problem for him is that his background embodies the failure. It’s a brave man who uses his own privilege to abolish advantages for others.”


2 responses to “Social Mobility in the U.K.: A New Initiative by Nick Clegg

  1. David Schatzky

    Even if Clegg’s well-intentioned initiative only changes the kind of people at the top, then it will have evened the playing field for people who are generally disadvantaged. That may help mitigate the nasty impact of the class society which still exists (not only in Britain).

  2. Michael Gundy

    So what’s new here?

    The apprentice system employed entrants who paid or received little remuneration for “on the job” instruction. Interns generally provide little “value add” to an organization, hence the marginal pay.