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Research reveals ‘class pay gap’ in Britain’s professions of £6,800

'This unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society' said Alan Milburn - the government's social mobility tsar

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 26 January 2017 01:51 GMT
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There is a 17 per cent pay gap between those from working class backgrounds and those from more privileged upbringings
There is a 17 per cent pay gap between those from working class backgrounds and those from more privileged upbringings (Getty Images)

Professionals from working class backgrounds are paid around £6,800 less than their peers who had affluent upbringings, new research unveiling a “class pay gap” in Britain has found.

The study, by the Social Mobility Commission, found that access to Britain’s professions, including journalism, law, medicine and academia remained dominated by those from advantaged backgrounds.

But the most striking find was the 17 per cent pay gap between those from working class backgrounds and those from more privileged upbringings. Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, said it was evidence that Britain remains a “deeply elitist” society.

Even when professionals had the same educational qualification, role and experience as their colleagues, those from poorer backgrounds were paid an average of £2,242 less than their peers.

According to the Social Mobility Commission, women and ethnic minorities face a “double disadvantage” that means their earnings are hit even harder.

Mr Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet minister, said: "This unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society.

"Too many people from working class backgrounds not only face barriers getting into the professions, but also barriers to getting on. It cannot be right that they face an annual class pay gap of £6,800.

"Many professional firms are doing excellent work to open their doors to people from all backgrounds, but this research suggests much more needs to be done to ensure that Britain is a place where everyone has an equal chance of success regardless of where they have come from.

"How much you are paid should be determined by your ability not your background. Employers need to take action to end the shocking class earnings penalty."

Commenting on the report Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “This report shows the gaping class divide at the heart of our society that we already know existed. From the boardrooms of our businesses to Parliament, far too many professions are still dominated by a wealth and connected elite.

“To get your foot in the door, too often it’s not what you know but who you know. I have never felt as common as when I entered the House of Commons

“This report shows the gaping class divide at the heart of our society that we already know existed. From the boardrooms of our businesses to Parliament, far too many professions are still dominated by a wealth and connected elite"

Tim Farron

“It’s time for the Government to not just say the right thing, but do the right thing, by investing in education and ensuring every person is given a chance to succeed.”

Academics from the LSE and UCL collaborated, using extensive data from the UK Labour Force Study – the largest survey of employment in Britain with over 90,000 respondents. It found the gap was partly caused by differences in educational background, along with the tendency among the middle classes to work in bigger firms and head to London.

Trade Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “Far too many people are missing out on the pay and opportunities they deserve, simply because of their background. We need to get more working class people in better paid jobs”.

"A good start would be ensuring that workers have seats on company boards, bringing a reality check to corporate Britain.

"TUC research has shown that countries with workers on boards have higher employment rates, lower poverty rates, and invest more in research and development."

Dr Sam Friedman, from the LSE, said: “While social mobility represents the norm, not the exception, in contemporary Britain, there is no doubt that strong barriers to opportunity still persist. By capitalising on new socio-economic background questions in the UK Labour Force Survey, we have been able to shine a light on some of the most pressing, but largely unexplored issues in British society today.

“In particular, we have found evidence of a powerful and largely unacknowledged pay gap within the professions. There are a number of reasons for his such as higher educational attainment among the privileged. But even when these factors are taken into account, this gap remains significant.”

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