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Inequality gap will widen without collective action, finds PwC study

Posted: 12th May 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is making it harder for people living in Scotland to achieve better opportunities in life, according to new research by PwC, which suggests government and businesses must take radical action to avoid furthering inequalities in society.

As Westminster and Holyrood Governments plan a post-pandemic levelling up agenda aimed at ensuring those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as future generations, are not further disadvantaged, PwC’s Driving Social Mobility research highlights the barriers people face to reach their potential, and the collective work necessary to improve social inequalities.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of Scots surveyed agreed that the pandemic has made social mobility more difficult, with just 10% saying this was not the case. Further to this, 61% said that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds had been further disadvantaged by the pandemic.

When asked about the recovery, 70% said the government should provide additional financial support to people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic with 76% believing governments should work with local businesses to offer more hands on experience as part of the education catch-up process from the pandemic.

The public are united in wanting business to play a key role in securing the social mobility of future generations, by offering better work experience and career pathways, and greater investment in apprenticeships and skills.

Of those surveyed, 59% said there was still too much inequality in the UK, with 51% saying such inequality was holding the UK back. And, while 63% said they were proud of what they had achieved in life (two points ahead of the UK total), just 27% believe British society is fair.

The survey found an overall sense of personal responsibility in Scotland, with respondents having a firm belief that individuals are accountable for the direction of their life – coming out ahead of government institutions, schools, universities and businesses on a range of topics from education to careers, personal networks and maintaining a good standard of living.

In Scotland, 39% said individuals are most responsible for leaving school with good qualifications, followed by 32% believing the onus is on schools. This compares with the UK overall, where 37% said schools and 33% individuals.

Scots also believe that individuals are the most responsible for improving social mobility, ahead of central government and schools.

Stewart Wilson, Head of Government and Public Sector for PwC Scotland, commented:

“We are all aware of the impact the pandemic has had on our lives and the businesses in our communities, and this research warns us that without urgent intervention, the pandemic risks reversing the progress that Scotland is making trying to improve social mobility.

“Our survey has shown that the public demands government action, but also input from businesses and other institutions. But crucially, people believe that everyone has a role to play and so it is only by working together on a bold and wide-reaching recovery plan that we can get society back on track and keep moving Scotland in the right direction.”

Personal responsibility comes to the fore

When asked about their personal circumstances, just 24% said their own socio-economic background had held them back in life with 42% stating that their education had helped them overcome any socio-economic disadvantage.

The survey found that the biggest barrier to Scots maximising their potential is their ethnicity and their socio-economic background, with 14% saying either their ethnicity, or the area they grew up in was most likely to hold them back. A further 12% cited disabilities.

More than half of those surveyed (54%) were concerned about the gaps in opportunities available to people from different backgrounds, while a majority (52%) disagreed that everyone has the same opportunity or chance to succeed.

However, the survey also found Scotland to have a largely content population with almost half (48%) saying they were comfortable with their current financial situation and more than half (54%) saying they were satisfied with what they had achieved in their career.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, senior advisor at PwC and chair of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

“While older people have been the principal health victims of Covid, without action the younger generation will be the biggest economic and social losers from it.

“COVID-19 has not only exposed the fragility of our care system.  It has also exposed the fragility of our society. Urgent action is needed to put jobs, education and skills for young people at the heart of the Government’s levelling up agenda.

“But this is too big a job for Whitehall alone. The public wants businesses to more actively step up to the plate to create new opportunities for people to progress in life. A new national mission is needed to address deep inequalities in society.”

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