The publication of the Social Mobility Commission’s ‘State of the Nation’ report late last year would have confirmed what many of Sported’s members knew already – that the divide between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’ is all too present in society today.
What may have come as a surprised however, is just how entrenched the problem of social mobility has become. When the government’s own press release begins with ‘Britain has a deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for an entire generation of young people’ you know what’s going to follow is going to make for a depressing read.
Indeed, within the report there are some truly worrying statistics. For example:
• ‘… only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high income earner as an adult’
• ‘over the last 5 years 1.2 million 16-year-olds – disproportionately from low-income homes – have left school without 5 good GCSEs’
• ‘just 5% of children eligible for free school meals gain 5 A grades at GCSE’
• ‘only 4% of doctors, 6% of barristers and 11% of journalists are from working-class backgrounds’
• ‘more than half the adults in Wales, the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland have less than £100 in savings’
Overcoming such a wide ranging and complex problem as social mobility is beyond the scope of any one single government, government department, local authority, institution, community or organisation. So it would be wrong to imply that sport is somehow that elusive silver bullet. Yet as an integral part of our society and collective cultural make-up, sport – or more specifically, Sport for Development – does have an important role to play, albeit one that is all too often overlooked or easily dismissed.
What’s the role of Sport for Development in improving social mobility? To boil it down to its simplest terms, it’s about aspirations and opportunity. Helping young people from low-incomes backgrounds aspire to overcome the cards they’ve been dealt in life and challenge the limitations they may unconsciously place upon themselves. And most importantly, creating opportunities to fulfil their potential, which they otherwise wouldn’t have due to economic, social and cultural reasons outside of their control.
Community sport groups across the UK routinely engage some of the most hard-to-reach and disadvantaged young people, due to their locale in areas of high deprivation and the use of sport as a popular engagement tool. Here young people are given guidance and stewardship, the opportunity to develop soft skills and gain qualifications. Add into the mix complementary Sport for Development activities, for example education and employability sessions as delivered through programmes such as Sporteducate and charities like Street League, and you have a powerful channel which to enhance the life chances of young people in the greatest need.
The geographical spread of community sport groups is also another factor as to why sport has an important role in improving social mobility. The Social Mobility Index report details how the location of where a young person grows up impacts their chances of doing well as an adult. It describes ‘a new geography of disadvantage’, with old industrial towns, coal mining areas and formerly prosperous seaside resorts facing high levels of disadvantage. In fact, there are – what the report describes as – ‘social mobility coldspots’ in every part of the country.
A compelling part of the argument for sport as a tool for social mobility, comes in its ability to find roots in communities that are facing the biggest hardships. In almost every community, no matter what the economic conditions, you’ll find hard-working volunteers giving up their time to run the local boxing gym, football team et al – all for the benefit of young people in the local community.
These volunteers and Sport for Development groups are vital for communities and provide an additional, alternative and highly effective method of providing targeted support to overcome the entrenched inequalities in our society. In what are seemingly divisive times, when the preference is for people to focus on the things that differentiates groups rather than what unites them, whether it’s Pro vs Anti-BREXIT, ‘the Left’ vs ‘the Right’, anything that proactively brings communities together and enhances the lives of those that attend should be celebrated and rewarded.