Social Mobility and Child Poverty – addressing motivational needs and values too?

By October 18, 2011Uncategorized

We have previously reported on the Cabinet Office call for evidence on social mobility and child poverty. This consultation closed on 16th October, however there are likely to be further opportunities to feed in views as the new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is likely to call for further submissions as it develops its work programme.

TCC submitted comments. Some slightly re-edited extracts from the submission are set out below.

What do you think are the links between social mobility and child poverty?

Paragraph 1.32 of the Child Poverty Strategy sets out a range of key drivers of poverty that need to be tackled. Those issues can also impact on social mobility too. The Graham Allen reports demonstrated that a lack of early intervention creates a gap in attainment at an early age. Whilst parental financial resources can clearly exacerbate that gap – as Danny Dorling in his new book Fair Play: A Daniel Dorling Reader on Social Justice points out –  other issues such as a young person’s perception of their status in relation to those they observe in their life and their social networks can also impact on people too. Thus whilst resources are important, these are often not targeted at communities through their psychological profile of resilience, but instead are targeted in terms of geo-demographics. This may mean that poor communities which, however, have pro-social networks that are likely to lead to higher educational attainment are treated the same as those communities where self-efficacy and motivation is low.

What are the main barriers which stop people moving out of poverty or which prevent people from slipping into poverty?

Many others making a submission to this consultation will cover social determinants issues and they are of course vitally important. This submission will not seek to cover exactly the same ground. Instead its perspective is about additionally addressing the issue in behaviour change terms.

Social mobility strategies that simply address ‘ability’ (ie providing the bike for people to –  in the words of Norman Tebbit ‘get on your bike’ does not address the issue of motivating them to pick up the bike) do not go far enough. It might have been good enough in the 20th century when the welfare state was developing, but is not adequate in the 21st century when ‘motivation’ needs to be addressed too as some families pro-social networks are likely to reinforce their self-efficacy compared to others . This concept is explored further in answer to a later question. The Government currently seems to be coming up with more interventions to support people’s ‘ability’. For example the proposed ‘house swap scheme‘.

For many people who primarily hold security, sustenance and safety needs and values, they are likely to have social networks and peer groups that do not encourage self-efficacy and motivation and, as we have previously blogged in more detail here, there is likely to be a higher cognitive burden for them to develop self-efficacy.

One can, to a degree, address this issue through sanctions (ie benefit conditionality) or incentives (which are often set far too low), but if they cease then people may not be motivated to build on external form of influence, however both these approaches would be difficult to deliver in the current financial climate. A less expensive approach based on behaviour change interventions is examined in more detail in a later answer.

Do you think the Government’s policies, in particular the social mobility and child poverty strategies, will improve people’s life chances?

The alignment of Government Child Poverty and Social Mobility strategies is a good idea. It should also connect with the Government’s Public Health strategy too. Action should be focused at a local level and local government, enabling local communities to be supported with premiums – similar to that proposed in public health to prioritise this issue.

Are there other policies that could be implemented for the same cost which would ensure that all citizens have the same opportunities?

There are other approaches that could be delivered over a longer period at a lower cost. Social mobility is an inter-generational issue that requires long-term commitment from governments, so the greater the consensus to create long-term programmes the more likelihood of some change occurring. Thus getting politicians to agree a set of commonly agreed indicators that both  the coalition parties and the opposition will support irrespective who is in power after 2015. We need a core set of indicators to be measured and prioritised over decades in order to drive policy change here.

At the same time it also needs to be recognised that the financial situation means it will be more difficult to deliver expensive changes at least in the short-term, whatever the level of political consensus.

Is there another approach that could be piloted as part of the review into this?

Behaviour Change theory often stresses the importance of the need to address issues around both personal “ability” and “motivation”. Naturally the focus in public policy in the last century or more has been on providing support to help people develop their “ability” (eg universal education) and of course there may be more that still needs to be done in this field as books such as the Spirit Level would argue. The Capabilities Approach of Amartya Sen also quite naturally focuses on tackling the inequalities around how the state or society contributes to ability.

However increasingly the other half of the behaviour change equation, “motivation”, is moving out of a past individualistic cul-de-sac of American business management and self-help books and is beginning to be recognised as a collective action problem for society as a whole to address.

The argument is quite simple, and makes a practical use of the current understanding of how the brain works and the two independent systems within it: the emotional side and the rational reflective or conscious system. If we just invest in supporting abilities we do much to support the part of us that is the rational, however we then do not address the issues around our emotional selves.

Behaviour Change campaigns in areas like public health and the environment already recognise the importance of addressing both aspects of human behaviour.  However in other areas of public policy there is still the danger that however much we invest in improving “ability”, if we do not address the challenge of demotivation and low self-efficacy then the gap in a range of inequalities (from health to social mobility) could continue to widen at the same time as income inequalities.

Much of the early debate in this field has been around the Happiness agenda of Richard Layard, which has already led to much more resources being invested in support for talking therapies in mental health provision. Government’s have also increased the number of “personal advisors” and advocates in a number of fields from education to employment, but there has been no fully joined up approach to this across Government. In a modern complex society addressing relative levels of deprivation may require interventions around the need to provide ‘cradle to grave’ advice and empathic emotional support at all stages of the life-cycle in the same way we provide a universal service for people’s physical health. People’s varying social networks means there is likely to be a vast amount of inequality here which impacts on an reinforces other forms of inequality. The current financial situation may hold back further significant development here for the next few years.

However the Government’s has itself produced the Mindspace report setting out a new range of interventions that could be the basis for future local government pilot interventions. In pointing this out it should be stated that behaviour change campaigns are more than just ‘Nudges‘ which are just one tool as the Mindspace report shows.

How might one develop new approaches to supporting social mobility in the short-term?

One approach for future pilots might be to draw from the specific field of social marketing within behaviour change. Before one can develop new proposals for intervention, there needs to be a gathering of insight using newer forms of segmentation that give a greater understanding of levels of motivation and self-efficacy within the community. Only then can more targeted interventions be delivered to the right people, to enable motivations to be supported that then make the important continuing investment into developing ability all the more effective.

Hopefully the ability to pilot local initiatives that follow this approach might contribute to finding new ways to support those communities where the local social capital comprises social networks that are inward looking and are certainly not the type that tend to help Ministers of the future get intern jobs, but more seriously may well hold back many people with potential.

How can we create the right mix of practical and financial support to ensure that all people have opportunities to get on in life?

Too often when one seeks to change behaviour in challenging situations the incentives are set far too low. However if larger incentives are created there is likely to be a perception from those who do have higher levels of self-efficacy that they are losing out. Thus one of the most important elements is to firstly gather insight into the attitudes of the wider public as to what sort of time-limited reciprocation would be acceptably targeted.

The Government has just announced the expansion of the ‘right to buy scheme‘ but in expanding this ‘right’ has surprisingly not added any reciprocity in that there could be a ‘responsibility’ added that encourages anybody who benefits from the right to buy discount and subsequently moves away to give something back to the community they have left in terms of mentoring others in the community as part of an alumni scheme for poorer communities. This idea is covered further later on in this submission.

What are the best examples of projects which have brought about real progress in creating a fairer, more mobile society?

Projects to tackle this issue are going to be often very local. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission as part of its contribution to the Government transparency agenda should publish a list of programmes and pilots being developed. In order to save resources it should collaborate with Public Health England and the Local Government Association to publish online a single online resource that provides information on local interventions, projects and good practise covering well-being, public health, social mobility and child poverty as many of the indicators will be shared across these policy areas.

What are the best examples of where effective projects have been expanded and best practise shared with other areas or organisations?

It would be helpful if there was as part of the transparency agenda a ‘single good practice’ website shared by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Public Health England and the Local Government Association setting out for each locality examples of good practise. In order for practitioners in each field to make the most of it, the reports could be easily ‘tagged’ in numerous ways covering public health, early intervention, social mobility, child poverty, well-being etc.

What more should businesses, civil society and other non-government institutions be doing to improve social mobility and tackle child poverty?

Business can play a substantial role in Nudging communities. It probably means the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Team should stop talking to civil servants and instead talk to the Head of Human Resources in companies, to explain how recruitment and retention policies send a vast array of sub-textual messages to the public and how they respond to it.

An important policy for the poorest communities with the lowest resilience and self-efficacy is to recognises that they have a significant churn of people in any given year, thus behaviour change interventions should focus on:

1. Those moving away from an area. There should be a local alumni based mentoring scheme that business and philanthropy might be encouraged to support. People in  a poor community need to see the success stories and for those success stories to be reported locally.

2. Those moving to a new area. The idea of induction into a community has declined with the ending of services such as a rent collector visiting the home. This might be an area that Civil Society and the voluntary sector drawing from Big Society bank and social investment funding could create a new mainly voluntary service that builds on the work of residents associations, neighbourhood watch and the community organising programme.

Do you think the indicators set out in the child poverty and social mobility strategies are the right measures?

The Child Poverty Indicators seem to set a clear measurable baseline. The Social Mobility Indicators also set out some sensible measurables. The adoption of a life-cycle approach is a good one. Where there is a weakness is in four areas:

1. Measuring Social Mobility in adulthood. As the reports themselves currently acknowledge this is an area of weakness. One of challenges with relative poverty is about status, the esteem of others and self-esteem. By the age of 18-21 a person is likely to hold a set of values  towards  the level of ‘success’ they are either still seeking or whether they have resigned themselves to not achieving it. Even more significantly by the age of 35-40 people will have clear view on their outlook towards the past present and future, with some adopting an air of resignation or fatalism.

2. Measurement of psychological motivations from 16+ in order to understand motivation and self-efficacy in the community. The Government Department BIS has already conducted some research in this field. More could be done to understand the spread of motivational needs and values segments in the community to add value to existing geo-demographics, which can tell you where and how people behave, but tells little about why people behave the way they do.

3. Downward Social Mobility. The report has focused on upward social mobility, but with home ownership percentages declining, Government does need to much better understand how differing communities handle downward social mobility.  For some people their motivational needs and values and the nature of their social networks means they seem to be able to reframe life in a better, less materialistic way. It might be possible to apply the lessons here to communities which have sustenance, security and safety values and thus might see materialism as the only measure of their worth and thus less motivated to act if they feel they are less likely to secure material gains. There is a need for a lot more research here.

4. Integrating the proposed indicators with the Public Health White Paper Outcomes Framework Indicators and the Government’s own National Well-being indicators as this is an area where local Council’s could be a much bigger role integrating targeted public health, well-being, early intervention, child poverty and social mobility interventions at demotivated sections within the community

What would be the best way to measure progress on social mobility and child poverty?

The new indicator that would tell us a lot would be an indicator that in effect measured responsiveness to the Norman Tebbit invocation to ‘get on your bike’. However the only way to do that would be to measure and segment psychological motivations from 16+ in order to understand motivation and self-efficacy in the community. The Government Department BIS has already commissioned some research in this field. More could be done to understand the spread of motivational needs segments in the community to add value to existing geo-demographics, which can tell you where and how people behave, but tells little about why people behave the way they do.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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