Cameron wrong to say UK is classless

One of our team of practitioner columnists gives his take on whether the UK has become more classless

According to Conservative party leader David Cameron, the “great thing about Britain is that it matters more where you are going than where you come from”. Finally, we can rejoice that we are all classless and free. And being born with a plastic spoon in your mouth is as good as silver. Are you sure, David?

Recent figures show a different picture. Although just 7 per cent of children attend private schools, they remain the breeding ground for three-quarters of our judges, 42 per cent of our government ministers and 56 per cent of our top journalists.

The domination of private schooling over the UK’s most influential jobs has become greater rather than less over the past 20 years. Opportunities for bright children from non-privileged backgrounds have shrunk, suggesting their prospects will further decline over the next generation with a widening gap between power and the remaining 93 per cent of the population. Who will fight, represent or reveal inequalities within wider society when the professions designed to do so come from the privileged social elite?

To coincide with these figures, a report just published by the British Medical Association’s Board of Science shows a rise to more than a million of children having mental health problems, with behavioural disorders doubling over the past 30 years.

We all know that wealth and privilege are no defence against mental illness but they do help. Whereas poor diet, social and environmental deprivations are factors that may increase a child’s vulnerability to a mental health disorder and disempowerment, nearly nine out of 10 medical students come from managerial or professional backgrounds. So hands are reaching out but across a huge social divide.

It is hard to sustain any belief that we are in, or striving towards, a meritocracy. It seems likely that those who wield power and influence will continue to support the beliefs of the 7 per cent who spawned them and made their own success possible.

And of course none of this bodes well for any starry-eyed belief in social democracy. It seems truly swallowed by capitalism, which is indefatigable and undemocratic.

And that might be fine if your name happens to be David Cameron. But at least I know where to put my plastic spoon. CC

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

CAPTION: Despite the utterances of David Cameron, Britain’s power base is dominated by privately educated people, writes Nigel Leaney

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