Shining a Bright Light

The Social Mobility Commission’s new State of the Nation 2018/19 report could act as a report card for the UK trust and foundation movement.

Social mobility has stagnated over the past 4 years “at virtually all stages from birth to work”:

“Being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you will have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.”

Click to access SMC_State_of_the_Nation_Report_2018-19.pdf

Though that isn’t the fault of trusts and foundations it is our responsibility to understand:

  1. Did we do enough to stop things getting worse for people?
  2. How did we prevent new difficulties arising for people?
  3. How successful were we in improving people’s situation in the short and for the long term?
  4. What can we do better, individually and collectively, over the next 4 years?

At a recent meeting of ‘progressive’ funders with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation @SMKcampaigners to discuss their Social Change Project report, the unique role of trusts and foundations was clear.

Trusts and Foundations can’t solve social problems because most social problems are so big and, even acting together and mobilising much more of their endowments than they currently do, trusts and foundations are so small.  And in the majority of cases, solving and preventing those problems is someone else’s duty.

But trusts and foundations’ main responsibility – and unique power – is to shine a bright light on those problems – their causes and how to end them – and to hold to account (directly and through empowering others) the duty bearers causing those problems – for as long as necessary.

Arguably, this and other recent reports show we’ve continually got the balance wrong between treating symptoms and tackling causes.  The Social Change Project framework can help us change our focus to affect systems, institutions and the people who run them.

And one statement from the Social Mobility Commission’s report is a direct challenge to trusts and foundations about who manages and governs them:

“Social mobility is not just about children from council estates becoming CEOs.  We want to reduce the social mobility ‘Power Gap’ where those from better off backgrounds not only earn more money but control the levers that shape our society.”

The UK trust and foundation movement has its own Power Gap and we need to act to close that gap – in terms of both supply and demand.  Some examples of action are listed here:

Some other SMC report key findings:

“Our analysis finds that, too often, well intentioned policies fail to reach those who would benefit most, while cuts to other provisions disproportionately impact the most vulnerable.”

“Research shows that living standards are getting worse for the working class and for young people.”

“The middle class is being supported while the most disadvantaged are left behind.”

“The better off are still 80 per cent more likely to make it into professional jobs than those from working class backgrounds. We continue to see that those with the least skills are the least likely to get training.”

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