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The Great Chasm

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Why does the north/south divide in Great Britain continues to grow and what can be done to stop it? The reasons for this disparity are well documented. Economic prosperity in the south ‑ particularly in the Home Counties ‑ leads to better health, better education, better employment and life expectancy of nearly 20 years more than those in the north. The south comes top on every metric, but one criterion that hasn’t been measured is that of ‘privilege’ …writes YZ Patel.

 

Prime Minister David Cameron with Chancellor George Osborne in Manchester
Prime Minister David Cameron with Chancellor George Osborne in Manchester

The thought processes of writing a column or an article are often quite simple. It usually concerns something happening in the news. Sometimes, however when that process starts it eventually evolves into something very different to where the original idea started from.

The subject matter for discourse and examination was going to be the north/south divide. This is a subject that is analysed almost on a daily basis, why the chasm is growing and what can be done to stop it.

The reasons for this disparity are well documented. Economic prosperity in the south ‑ particularly in the Home Counties ‑ leads to better health, better education, better employment and life expectancy of nearly 20 years more than those in the north. The south comes top on every metric, but one criterion that hasn’t been measured is that of ‘privilege’.

Privilege is defined as having a special right or advantage. American academic Peggy Macintosh described it as an “invisible package of unearned assets”. Those that have this privilege, Macintosh says, often deny all knowledge of it.

The reason privileged people resist acknowledging their privilege, Macintosh says, is because doing so would require them to acknowledge that whatever success they have achieved did not result solely through their own efforts, but was at least partly due to a system that has developed to support them.

And this is where a certain Jonathan Samuels comes into the equation. Jonathan Samuels is someone I had never had heard or come across until yesterday, he is the reason why what was going to be deliberated has taken this tangent.

Mr Samuels is the chief executive and founder of property finance company Dragonfly. He is also a former attendee of Manchester Grammar School and it is here he came to give advice to current pupils on how to make a success in life as he had.

Before I go on to what Mr Samuels said let me chronicle how he became the founder of Dragonfly making himself a multi millionaire at just the age of 30.

After leaving Manchester Grammar School, he went down that well trodden path that most of us do, that is to Oxford University to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) before joining McKinsey & Company management consultancy.

Now whilst building up his ‘connections’ with like minded persons, three years later he moved to South Africa to head up Standard Chartered Bank’s residential mortgages division before deciding to take the leap and set up The Mortgage Point. He was then approached by a equity company and sold the company.

With the proceeds, at just 30 years old he set up Dragonfly providing bridging finance and has lent over 1.3 billion in England in just five years.

Now nobody is mocking these achievements. They are to be admired at such a young age but what has to be scrutinised is what advice he gave to the pupils and to people like me reading.

“Don’t underestimate the value of a good education and high grades. Working hard and receiving academic recognition undoubtedly pays dividends.”

Some people may disagree with this. Nowadays what pays rich dividend is the lottery of birth, being in the right social class, race, gender and most importantly having these right connections and links.

To further qualify this, a piece written by Professor Patrick McGhee of the University of Bolton, exemplifies why this success will be only attainable to a very few like Mr Samuels regardless of educational attainment.

In the piece he explains why there is absolutely no chance why any of us will be rubbing our shoulders with anybody from McKinsey Consultancy anytime soon. The reason is quite evidently that the odds of a child at a state secondary school, who was eligible for free school meals in Year 11, being admitted to Oxbridge by the age of 19 were almost 2,000 to one.

Contrast this with someone with a public school education the odds dramatically dwindle to just 20 to one.

Now you marry that up with a society where a small number of elite universities serve as narrow gateways to the top jobs in every sphere be it politics, finance, civil service, media and you see how this ‘privilege’ of having been afforded a public education to access the top universities result in the inevitable, of attaining the top jobs which are then the most paid and so the cycle of privilege and success continues unabated.

So for Mr Samuels it is having these privileges ‑ afforded to a few regardless of high educational attainment ‑ which enables the pathways to success. This is illustrated by the statistics that those attending the Russell Group of Universities which include Oxford and Cambridge that only 3.2% were not of a public school background but classed as ‘disadvantaged’.

This will be further emphasised by a further report coming out this year exploring why this ‘privileged’ section of society succeed in the labour market despite apparent low ability or few academic achievements. They will also be publishing research into the “black box” behind candidate selection and promotion in the professions.

Why do they need to spend money on researching why that happens when every man on the street can tell you why is beyond me.

The challenges for the United Kingdom will remain. Achieving a meritocratic society giving people the opportunity and the pathways to succeed regardless of money and connections should be the focus, but considering how our political elite are where they are I can’t see them rocking that boat too much.

Until that happens we have to accept that unfortunately that is the status quo and no matter how many reports they commission it is something that is inherent within this society and no real moves will be made to change it.