Friday, January 16, 2009

Food for thought

Over on the Civitas blog, David Conway has some interesting thoughts on social mobility.

Doubts about the value of social mobility have begun to arise after reading, in addition to all the newspaper reports about it, about the results of a recently published nationwide survey conducted by Ofsted of 150,000 teenagers living throughout England.

It found that the seemingly most happy of them were those living in the most deprived areas and attending the least well-performing schools. Meanwhile, amongst the least happy of them were those living in middle class districts and attending high-achieving schools.

This got me thinking about my own situation - not for the first time!

As I've mentioned before, I come from a very working class family and grew up in a very working class and tight-knit community. Pretty much everyone knew everybody else and looked out for one another. We all lived on the same streets, worked in the same factories, shops and offices and played in the same places.

We didn't have much money - it was well into the seventies (might even have been the early eighties) before we got our first colour television - but for some reason we were always pretty happy and satisfied. There were always visitors to our humble home, you'd always bump into someone you knew when you walked up the local street and the few "bad eggs" that there were were well known and kept their distance.

But I, like my brothers and many of my friends, attended grammar school and became (unintentionally) socially mobile. Now I suppose I would be considered middle class by many - though I still think of myself as working class (but I believe that everyone who works in the private sector is now a member of the new working class - i.e. the ones that pay taxes to pay for the state).

Unlike my brothers and most of my friends, I stayed in this area - despite everything you hear about Slough, it is MY home town and I still love it ... though probably more for what it used to be than what it is now.

The reality is, though, that the once tight knit community is long gone. The area has been deluged with people from other areas - some socially mobile, many of them geographically mobile - and I'm now more likely to meet someone from Lithuania in my local high street than someone I know.

I can't say I was particularly bothered by or aware of this dismantling of my community when I was 25 or so. I was well paid, drove fast, expensive cars, wore good clothes and took foreign holidays - but now I'm approaching 50 and have a family of my own I realise how shallow that all was. I regret the loss of community that has happened in this area over the last 30 years or so - mostly because my children don't benefit from the community spirit that existed when I was a kid growing up in this area.

Now whether that is the fault of social mobility or something else I can not be certain. My gut feeling is that it has more to do with the massive influx of new immigrants to Slough over the last ten years as much as anything - as new people come in, many of the old people move out. It is certainly true that even as recently as 8 or 10 years ago I would still bump into lots of people I know on a walk down the hight street. Now I hardly ever do.

What I do know, however, is that there is much more to life than material things. My childhood - which, by today's standards would probably be classed as "deprived" was very happy. I would almost say "extraordinarily" happy - but I know that there was nothing extraordinary about it. Most kids back then were happy and enjoyed their childhood. What was always far more important than money, material possessions and fancy job titles was family, friends and familiarity.

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