The recent debate, and my background in qualitative social and market research, has made me question the basics of social mobility. However it is defined, why would social mobility be desirable for everyone? In my view, the concept and desirability of social mobility is very much rooted in the particular world view and social norms of the professional middle classes.
I have been involved in many market and social research projects, and time and time again I observe that there are many people who earn a living and indeed enjoy their lives who live and work close to home, who operate in the hidden economy, earning money and providing for themselves and their families. They do not share the notions of the legitimacy and morality of certain types of taxation and other forms of economic inclusion. They see no reason to change and the incentives are often perverse. Why would they as they feel excluded from notions of success as represented in the media?
But, at the risk of romanticising the working class, some, not all, of these individuals in the invisible economy will benefit from living and working locally as they can take care of their extended families more easily, and actually form a vibrant part of the local community and economy. If these people do not want to change, and feel that the red tape and the costs of economic inclusion are detrimental to their lives, why would they?
I am frustrated that policy makers do not listen to the research they commission about people’s real lives. If you purport to want to understand people’s lives, then you should use the insight you gain, and question and remake your policies. Different kinds of incentives and pathways may be necessary for different types of people. What is right for, and the value systems of, a stockbroker, will not suit everyone.