“Social Justice” is a term with a resonance in today’s society of a strength and importance that few others possess. As the pace of technological advancement continues to accelerate and thus alter the face of the working environment ““ indeed of society ““ Nick Pearce, the Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) spoke of the road travelled so far, and the path that lies ahead at the annual Learning and Skills Development Agency conference on June 21st.
For Better and For Worse
As Mr. Pearce outlined, there are certain pre-requisites for social justice. These include “equal citizenship” (entitling all citizens to certain political freedoms and actions), “the social minimum” (a floor level of economic condition and living condition through which no ““ one should fall), “equality of opportunity” (wherein opportunities are not dictated by an individuals background, but solely on merit) and a “fair distribution” of the wealth.
In the term of this government matters have improved substantially in the distribution of income”“ some one million children have been “lifted out of poverty” as Mr. Pearce put it since Labour came to power in 1997. However, social mobility for children has grown appreciably worse in recent decades, with a child in 1958 much more likely to achieve social movement than a child born in or around 1970. So, whilst the distribution of income is fairer, the wealth divide is growing wider and wider.
The Anglo ““ Social Model in Sickness and in Health
There is a term, coined by Mr. Pearce, that seeks to define the socio ““ economic policy and strategy of Britain. This is the so ““ called “Anglo ““ Social Model”, which seeks to guarantee healthy public services, high levels of employment, and so forth. One of the main challenges that is faced is the need to adapt this model to the changing climate that the nation finds itself in; and it is in this regard that the IPPR believe the FE sector have a vital role to play.
In this model ““ which seems to be centred on the Labour Party’s time in office – the public find themselves with a number of services and provisions of an improved quality. There are expanding public services funded by general taxation. There is a new anti ““ poverty system in the much ““ pilloried Tax Credit scheme (which came in for substantial criticism recently when miscalculations led to an embarrassing request for some families to return money they had believed was theirs to keep). There is an active welfare state, and improved childcare, early years and adult learning provision.
However, the rosy hue of this picture is simplistic; the thorns of this rose lie in the pressures and challenges ahead. Mr. Pearce numbers amongst these the increasing pressures towards wage equality from the labour market; the increased participation of women in the workforce and the implications that this has for care provision; the stalled or even declining social mobility mentioned earlier; the marked regional inequality, with the notorious “North ““ South divide” now worse than ever; the rising cost of maintaining this expanded public sector; and the impact, socially and economically, of the higher levels of immigration.
FE To The Rescue?
This, Mr. Pearce believes, is where the FE sector comes in. He calls for a continued expansion of childcare and early year provision, and says that the “Basic and Level II” skills are essential for the achievement of his “social minimum”. He calls for those in Learning and Skills to think about how their work can encourage social mobility through encouraging learning new skills for career progression (the need to learn new skills more than once in a working life has become an increasingly recognised requirement and is cited by politicians and theoreticians across the political divide).
With the labour market as it is currently structured, there is substantial inactivity in various regions. Bringing those people back to wok will serve to generate activity and income, thus fuelling a stronger economy and more equal socio ““ economic system (ideally). Finally, it will be necessary to use the resources of the FE sector to better manage migration.
The learning and skills sector is therefore possessed of a role that deserves pride. FE, in its many guises, is providing the major effort in achieving social justice. Mr. Pearce called the sector the “engine ““ room of social justice” ““ hwo well the engine performs, however, remains to be seen.
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