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The End of Aspiration?

by Duncan Exley

Business The Real World

LoveReading View on The End of Aspiration?

Why do some people get to achieve aspirations that were unattainable for their parents while others don’t seem to get the opportunities they deserve? That is the critical, far-reaching question at the heart of this energetic, enlightening book. Based on fascinating – and often heart-rending - case studies of UK citizens, it explores to what extent children are offered opportunities to attain widely-held aspirations (to have a job you love, your own home and a rewarding relationship/family), what barriers are in their way, and whether decision-makers are truly prepared to take measures to remove those barriers. Through personal experience and interviews with a diverse set of individuals, the author notes that most children from working class backgrounds have at best a couple of hours of career guidance. People stumble into jobs, or end up down career cul-de-sacs they should never have taken.

The findings don’t make for happy reading overall. While a working class kid might break through one barrier and get to university on merit, on arrival “the cultural codes of the elite are opaque and baffling”, and it’s often the same experience for those who break into traditionally middle class professions. Indeed, the author discovers that today people from middle-income backgrounds are more likely to slide down the scale.

So what’s the solution to this depressing state of affairs? The author notes several key factors that need to be addressed. For example, social desegregation in educational institutions: “schools should be required to ensure that their intake is at least approximately reflective of the population of the surrounding local authority.” Another key factor would be to take away “opportunity tolls” i.e. children not being able to attend certain schools because of uniform costs, or jobseekers being unable to afford to travel to interviews. This engaging book makes for sobering reading, but also offers hope through the author’s ideas for rebalancing society to benefit the many.



Joanne Owen

The End of Aspiration? Synopsis

Why is it getting harder to secure a job that matches our qualifications, buy a home of our own and achieve financial stability? Underprivileged people have always faced barriers, but people from middle-income families are increasingly more likely to slide down the social scale than climb up. Duncan Exley, former Director of the Equality Trust, draws on expert research and real life experiences - including from an actor, a politician, a billionaire entrepreneur and a surgeon - to issue a wake-up call to break through segregated opportunity. He offers a manifesto to reboot our prospects and benefit all.

The End of Aspiration? Press Reviews

An accessible and illuminating book that shines a light on the processes which lock many hard-working people out of prosperity in Britain.

James Bloodworth, author of Hired and The Myth of Meritocracy

Uniquely looks at the journeys of diverse group of people's lives who've experienced social mobility and then asks how they can translate into practical steps that government, businesses and communities can take to deliver the sea-change on social mobility Britain so clearly needs. A fascinating challenge to a political system that too often prefers grand ideas and debate over practical change and action.

Justine Greening, Conservative MP for Putney and former Secretary of State for Education

A fresh and original look at social mobility using powerful personal narratives that vividly bring to life the human scale of social mobility.

Diane Reay, University of Cambridge

A cogent and penetrating examination of the myths and realities behind social mobility and aspiration ... as well as a compelling personal account of what those terms actually mean in terms of lives lived, ambitions achieved and the barriers to real equality that exist in modern Britain

Stuart Maconie, broadcaster and author of Pies and Prejudice

A passionate and pertinent contribution to a growing literature on social mobility in an age of inequality.

Lynsey Hanley

A detailed, often painful anatomy of a crisis. Exley's blend of exhaustive research and empathetic human narrative creates a devastating composite picture of how, at every stage of our lives, through every institution we encounter, wealth and privilege all too often shape experience and opportunity. A book that should not only be read, but urgently acted upon.

Sam Byers, author of Perfidious Albion

Exley has managed in this book to take a subject that is all too often given to dry, earnest analysis and more than a little hand-wringing and made it entirely accessible. It is anchored in robust research, but its the humanity, storytelling, and acute observations he brings to the subject of social mobility that makes this a stand-out read.

Mary O'Hara, The Guardian and author of The Shame Game.

Every politician pretends to aspire to a society where aspiration and talent are rewarded regardless of background - but few take the hard equalising steps towards making that happen. Here's a book full of personal stories and heart-breaking facts showing how far we are from every child starting out with an equal chance. But read Duncan Exley for the remedies that could give us hope.

Polly Toynbee, The Guardian

A great book, with more information and insight than I can possibly review here

LibDem Voice

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781447348320
Publication date: 18/04/2019
Publisher: Policy Press
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781447348320
Publication date: 18th April 2019
Author: Duncan Exley
Publisher: Policy Press
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 312 pages
Genres: Business, The Real World,
Categories: Social mobility,

About Duncan Exley

Duncan Exley is the former Director of the Equality Trust, a charity founded by the authors of The Spirit Level (Penguin, second edition 2010) to address economic inequality in the UK. A former student of economic and social history, he has had a long career in leading campaigning organisations and projects that use research to change government policy and corporate practice. Despite being the son of a shop assistant and a `pit electrician', Duncan has been described as part of `the establishment'. He tweets as @Duncan_Exley.

More About Duncan Exley

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