Britain 'too snobby', Clegg warns

Patricia Routledge and Clive Swift in the 90s sitcome Keeping Up Appearances
Patricia Routledge and Clive Swift in the 90s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances
Alex Stevenson By

Snobbery is "hobbling our economy", Nick Clegg has claimed.

The deputy prime minister called for the public school "sense of entitlement" to spread to those from less advantaged backgrounds in a speech to the Sutton Trust.

He said historian Frank Harris' 1932 claim that "snobbery is the religion of England" has "more than a ring of truth" about it in 2012.

"As a nation we have to shake off the outdated, snobbish attitudes of class that are cramping our society and hobbling our economy," Mr Clegg said.

"The coalition government is constructing a new architecture for policy-making that is centred on social mobility. A machinery for mobility.

"But class-bound attitudes are the ghost in the machine. Hard to identify, tricky to measure, and extremely difficult to reform, these invisible barriers are therefore some of the hardest to breach."

Mr Clegg said the recession presented an opportunity to improve relative social mobility even if absolute social mobility does not improve.

He rejected the claim that the coalition's spending cuts were "turning the clock back to the 1930s".

The Liberal Democrat leader disputed the strength of the link between economic growth and mobility, pointing out that from the mid-90s to the financial crash of 2008 social mobility rates had remained flat.

"A growing economy will often do a good job of increasing absolute social mobility – simply by making everyone better off than the previous generation," he added.

"But growth does not necessarily improve relative social mobility, in other words the way your background affects your life chances."

Mr Clegg said the government was spending £8 billion for universal pre-school education, £2.5 billion by the end of the parliament on his pupil premium and £1 billion on the Youth Contract.

"Yes, it might be harder to find the money," he said.

"But that just means keeping your focus, because the long-term social and economic goals are so clear."

Improving poor educational attainment levels up to the UK average would increase GDP by £140 billion by 2050, according to the Sutton Trust.


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