Half of young British people believe social background determines chances of success in life

'Down the generations, hope has been a defining characteristic of the young, but this poll suggests that today youthful pessimism is becoming the norm. There is a stark inter-generational divide about Britain's social mobility prospects'

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More than half of young British people believe that social background determines chances of success in life, according to research by a former Labour cabinet minister who claims Britain’s “deep social mobility problem” is getting worse.

The report by Alan Milburn, who is now the Government’s social mobility tsar, found that 51 per cent of 18-to-24 year-olds agreed with the statement that background determines where you end up in life, compared with 40 per cent of those aged over 65. 

Shortly after entering office in July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined how she believed Britain could become the “world’s greatest meritocracy”, adding: “A country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and hard work will allow”.

But the research, carried out with the polling company YouGov before the general election, suggests Britons have a pessimistic view of progress in this area. Just 32 per cent – around a third – of those polled believed everyone has a fair chance in life regardless of their background. 

It found that more than three-quarters of people thought a person from a economically disadvantaged background will have less of an opportunity to get into a top university. 

The poll also pointed to a geographical divide, with 71 per cent claiming there were “fairly or very” large differences in opportunity depending on where a person lives. People in Scotland, Wales and the North East were the most likely to think that such differences exist.

Responding to the stark results, Mr Milburn – whose cabinet posts in the Blair government included Health Secretary – said that young people in Britain “increasingly feel like they are on the wrong side of a profound unfairness in society”.

He continued: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, what could be dubbed the 'revenge of the young' was evident at the general election with record numbers of young people turning out to vote.

“Down the generations, hope has been a defining characteristic of the young, but this poll suggests that today youthful pessimism is becoming the norm. There is a stark inter-generational divide about Britain's social mobility prospects.”

Mr Milburn added that the research was a “wake-up call for the new Government”, and said: “Cracking Britain's social mobility problem has to become its defining domestic priority.

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