Data, Social Mobility And The Law

Ahead of this year’s Social Mobility Day, Bexley Beaumont Senior Associate Alice Kinder suggests that efforts to foster career progress regardless of someone’s circumstances might be helped by outlawing workplace discrimination on the basis of socio-economic background.

Discrimination in the workplace has many forms.

In law, it is based on what are termed protected characteristics.

Under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, there are nine such characteristics, which include age, sex, disability, race and religion (

Anyone to whom they apply cannot be discriminated against.

Last July, none other than the British Psychological Society proposed that a ninth item be added to that list; namely, socio-economic background.

It argued that a raft of evidence showed that a lack of social mobility created negative professional, financial and even mental health consequences (

As yet, the BPS has not succeeded in its attempts. The intervening months have, however, produced further data which suggests that the Society's push on social mobility seems to have struck a chord.

Only last week, The Times released the results of a survey which concluded that state education was failing to equip pupils with the right skills to forge ahead in the workplace (

The findings were endorsed by the Chairman of the business consultancy PwC, who described how working alongside truly engaged local education authorities had provided firms such as his with "more choice", allowing them to "expand economic opportunity further afield (

Such considerations are particularly relevant ahead of Social Mobility Day, which takes place on June the 15th.

It is a point in the calendar to highlight the issue, take stock of progress made and how much more still needs to be done.

The campaign is backed by many leading bodies in both the private and public sector which are convinced of the organisers' belief in the "need to put socio-economic diversity, equity and inclusion at the heart of" business (

This year's objective is encouraging people to 'Speak More' about the importance of social mobility.

It is certainly true that there has been more discussion of it in recent months.

In May, the Social Mobility Commission - an organisation which advises the Department for Education - published the Social Mobility Index. (

The Index, said the Commission, is part of a "long-term vision for measuring and monitoring social mobility outcomes over the next 30 years" and will measure how individuals of different ages and from different backgrounds get on.

That is being followed by a tool known as a Data Explorer which will allow the public, the public sector and the business community to see the incidence and impact of social mobility across the UK for the first time.

Media reports indicated that the Explorer will go 'live' in September, coinciding with the latest edition of the Commission's annual report (

I firmly believe, though, that data - knowledge of the scale and location of the problem - is only one part of any possible solution.

Whilst it may show areas - in some cases, geographical areas - where improvement is required, it won't be the answer itself.

Moreover, until one is found, people will find their prospects limited by a lack of social mobility.

That is why I remain convinced that the British Psychological Society is on the right track when it demands that social mobility be added to the Equality Act's list of protected characteristics.

It will, of course, provide a means by which those individuals affected can challenge discrimination in the workplace.

Even more significantly, the possible consequences - complaints to an Employment Tribunal and possible awards for someone's financial loss and injury to feelings - may encourage companies to change their practices for good and allow people to prosper regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances.

To discuss any of the above further, please feel free to contact Alice Kinder:  |  07526 372580