Nick Clegg’s vision of social mobility encourages to work – but what about play?

August 18, 2010

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, used day three of minding the governmental shop today to stress the importance of social mobility and of the coalition’s long-termist approach to achieving change.
There were a number of unanswered questions about the goal, not least how it’s possible to look out for the young and yet-to-be-born while ringfencing areas of spending – like healthcare and fuel allowances – that benefit disproportionately the elderly.
But the one that is currently preoccupying me is the challenge for government in simultaneously incentivising people to work while at the same time encouraging good parenting.
Clegg identified two key policies the government is pursuing to help alleviate the “poverty of opportunity”. One is a ‘pupil premium’ for schools. The other is tax reform to reward work.
Clegg alluded to the importance of ‘work’ and his ‘work ethic’ several times. Few would disagree that having gainful employment isn’t good for you and society. But to stress tax reform seems to me to be privileging paid, formal employment over the ‘work’ of those who choose to stay at home and look after their families.
This is the crux of the problem. On the one hand, the government wants to incentivise work, for us to go out and earn our daily bread and be happy and fulfilled members of society, whose children in turn will, as the products of economically and socially sucessful homes, achieve anything they want.
On the other, the government is well aware that parenting – the willingness to read to your children, to help them with their homework, to encourage a love of learning and a belief in their own abilities – is one of the single most important factors in enabling social mobility.
Clegg himself said on Wednesday that parenting was four times more important than socio-economic factors at determining educational outcome.
If that’s the case – what will the government do to encourage us to spend more time with our children, rather than just encouraging us to get out to work?

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