Birmingham Salon

Inward and upward

Saturday 16th September, 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm

John Peek Room, Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BU

Small Expectations? Social Mobility in the 21st Century

1.15 - 2.45 pm

Over the past 50 years, people in Britain who are born in to professional-managerial families are approximately 9 times as likely to enter managerial or professional careers as they are manual routine jobs. If you are from a family of unskilled workers, you have less than half the chance of accessing ‘salariat’ employment and around 4 times the chance of ending up in the most disadvantaged rountine positions.

The OECD reports that children from ethnic minority families engaged in unskilled work were much more likely to achieve long-range upward mobility than their white counterparts. The exception are men from Pakistani, Bangladeshi backgrounds who have fallen behind over the past 50 years, with a decline in their presence in the managerial or professional sector.

As economist Steffan Ball has stated "On social mobility, political debate is often focused on who climbs up the social ladder and that is critical. But it should also consider whether better off families retain their social and economic position. And on this metric too, the poorest and the richest in the U.K. are the most socially immobile. So this exacerbates social inequalities.”

The pace of social mobility has slowed but there is little consensus as to why. Factors like education, housing, and taxation have all have effects on our life chances.  As does geography: a high percentage of the high paying service sector jobs are based in the South East, which creates a disadvantage for the regions. 

Home ownership and a university degree have been seen as short cuts to social mobility and hence a focus of government policy in spite of both relying on increasing levels of debt. Both of these approaches look to have failed, with discouragingly higher mortgage interest rates and a much less marked salary disparity between graduates and non-graduates, with everyone’s wages squeezed.

Implied in the concept of social mobility is that, on the whole, movement is upwards. However, sociologist John Goldthorpe has pointed out "Politicians don’t want to hear the truth, which is that for people to climb the social ladder, others must move.” Where would they move to? Does this reveal there is no ceiling to mobility, or is it a hint that some must lower their expectations? 

The concept of social mobility requires us to think about meritocracy, equality, family and community.  What would our country look like if offered true social mobility? Does one person’s inheritance, financial or cultural, block another’s opportunity?


Lisa Mckenzie, working-class academic focused on issues of social and class inequality. Author, Working Class Lockdown Diaries (2021) and Getting By:Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain (2015)
Hilary Salt, founder, First Actuarial LLP. Hilary provides pension consultancy advice and undertakes policy work in private sector and public service organisations.

Chair - Simon Curtis
Session produced by Rosie Pocklington


The Myth of Class Mobility, Riposte magazine interviewing Lisa McKenzie, 2018
Social Mobility, the Next Generation, Sutton Trust report, 2023
The Myth of Social Mobility, Joanna Williams, Spiked 2019

Break - 2.45 - 3.15 pm. Tea/coffee included in ticket price.

Immigration: numbers, skills, visas or values?

3.15 - 4.45 pm

Immigration is one of the most divisive and emotive subjects of modern times. There are those who believe that the UK’s borders should be more open to allow those in need to enter the country. They often resort to caricaturing those who disagree with them as racist.  On the other side are people who want stricter border controls who see the opposition’s  only interest in immigration laws as how to help the people who break them, letting in rapists, thieves, and murderers through their misguided kindness, or carelessly allowing British working class lives to be significantly impacted.

The increase in levels of immigration to the UK comes from a mixture of official controlled routes, including new ones for people from Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Afghanistan, and illegal ones. What is it that is causing concern about immigration? Is it true that the UK is mainly hostile to refugees and that if we had more legal routes to apply then so many people would not risk crossing the Channel in a small boat and immigrant numbers would be lower? Or is Britain actually on balance a success story for immigration but now unable to provide for everyone already here? 

Often expressed is the idea that we just want control over our borders and that we just want to debate immigration. But what would this control look like? What effects would it have, and what is it exactly that we aren’t debating? 

Perhaps it comes down to whether there is maximum number of immigrants we can accommodate in the broadest sense of the word, or add to our workforce. If so,  is that merely a question of resources and need for certain skills, or of other things, like maintaining shared values? 


Sam Bidwell, Director, Centre for Commonwealth Affairs, Parliamentary researcher and writer for The Critic

Chair - Chris Akers, host 286 Project podcast
Session produced by Chris Akers