Why we need to debate the ‘poverty of ambition’ as well as inequality

One of the key ingredients to the successful renewal of the Labour party as a political force, and indeed as a political movement, is re-kindling our mission as anti-poverty crusaders.

Harold Wilson once famously declared that the Labour party “is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. We are a party born from an ambition to tackle the realities of poverty, deprivation, and injustice. That is our mantra and essence as a movement.

Compass heroically have been campaigning for a High Pay Commission where the wage-gap ratio between the highest and lowest earners in society is limited. This is a great campaign and will help to alleviate the wide-income gaps prevalent in society.

However, there is something else which we need to be equally passionate in fighting.

It’s something that destroys the life chances and potential for millions of people in this country. It’s called the poverty of ambition. We live in a highly-competitive world where our inter-connectedness is at a level never seen before.Thousands of students are struggling to get into university, with demand far outstripping supply. Graduates are fighting tooth and nail for jobs and the chance to realise their aspirations.

Very often though for individuals from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed, they need more than just a good education. They need social connections and networks in the professional world to have the same chance as others in realising their full potential. Those who come from backgrounds with more established family histories, stable communities or have higher-earning parents thrive in this socially exclusive world of who you know and what they can do for you. Ed Miliband has spoken about how he believes immigration to be a class issue. This issue here goes to the heart of class privileges and we need to pierce it.

People without the necessary contacts, don’t benefit from the same insight into the professional world afforded to those with them. This not only makes it harder for them to seek the career they may aspire for, but actually hinders their personal ambitions. Very often you will find they lack the full awareness and knowledge needed to dream big, to ponder what might be possible and what they could achieve.

It is shockingly amazing that 90% of judges and 75% of lawyers have been privately educated, despite it only accounting for 7% of the education system. Individuals from a poorer background, suffer from a deficient ‘social consciousness’ of the top-tier professional world. It is a shackle that prevents them from fulfilling their true capability as individuals. We need to break this barrier to social progress and mobility, and we can start with our very own party.

The Labour Party is an incredible citadel of talent, experience and skill. We have leaders and members from all walks of life, be they legal, financial, scientific or political. This social capital needs to be exported. Not only should we open up internship opportunities as far as possible, but we need to build real networking forums in some of the poorest and most neglected parts of the country. These networks have to be tangible and provide serious opportunities to learn and develop a sense of the professional world. Once we have created a successful model, we should build a nationwide one engaging FTSE 100 companies, top graduate employers, Universities etc.

To take advantage of chances to network, one has to possess strong people skills. Private schools are very good at developing these ‘soft’ skills with their students through debating and public speaking training. Having the confidence and self-esteem to showcase oneself in the best light should not be an asset just reserved for the fortunate. This is why we need to roll out a national schools public speaking programme.

Too often, the costs of undertaking an internship or gaining work experience deter people from poorer backgrounds. It is wrong that you cannot claim JSA while doing an internship. As a starting point, we should follow Australia in allowing young individuals to claim JSA while they intern for a certain period of time. This would give them the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and the skills required to pursue their ambitions.

Parents have a significant influence over their child’s development, sometimes sadly to their detriment. Schools should introduce a structured careers guidance programme specifically designed for parents, so that they benefit from seeing all that is possible for their child. This will help to open up horizons and for some communities, break cultural stereotypes and taboo’s surrounding certain jobs.  Our attempts at renewal need to involve building a movement for change. If we have the determination to see through our ambitions, we can create one of the most radical shifts in social mobility seen in this country for generations.

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