Improving social mobility in Great Britain? We have to talk about social and emotional health for all

This week the Social Mobility Commission published its State of the Nation 2016 report, showing deepened divides in a nation characterised by what Chair and former Labour MP Alan Milburn has called an “us and them society.” A troubling image of Great Britain is set out by the Commission in this report, but it is one that is not unfamiliar to those in the charity, social and education sectors working with parents and families for whom social immobility is a daily reality.

The Commission is right to set out recommendations for a support package for parents, to ensure all 5 year olds are “school ready”, and to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium with a focus on the most disadvantaged children. It is also welcome to see recommendations for the education sector to “close the gap” in educational inequality through training and better pay for teachers and schemes that hope to improve academic attainment and provide high quality advise and support to students.

While the Commission makes very sensible recommendations to tackle this issue that weighs heavily on so many people in Great Britain, the report is missing part of the puzzle. What the report does not give due attention to however, is the deficit of social and emotional health and skills. If social and emotional health and skills are improved upon and invested in, it would result in a considerable improvement to life outcomes for many parents and children around the country.

Research has shown that social and emotional competencies and skills, are predictive of diverse life outcomes, including improved mental health, academic attainment, employment prospects, relationship satisfaction and good health. As an emotional health charity working across the UK and in some of the most deprived parts of the country, we see first-hand the benefits that can improved social and emotional health can provide to children and families. Many parents feel empowered to take on further study or apply for work, they become better connected with other parents, and children are abler to empathise and build positive relationships. These foundational aspects for an emotionally healthy, fulfilled life are what is missing from the State of the Nation 2016 report,

Without consideration of how to build key social and emotional skills in our young people, such schemes and initiatives as outlined by the Commission may fail to address some of these essential foundations to improved social mobility. 

Nick Haisman-Smith

CEO, Family Links

Nick Haisman-Smith is the Chief Executive of Family Links. He is also a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol where he specializes in policy and implementation issues relating to social and emotional learning in educational settings.