November 29, 2013 10.47 am This story is over 96 months old

Where will this country be in 10 years time?

Poverty, cushions and Margaret Thatcher: “We must teach our children how to learn, not just how to conform,” writes Kate Taylor.

Listening to Boris Johnson’s speech at the third Margaret Thatcher lecture recently made me ponder on where exactly our country is heading. The speech was a run down of triumphs of the late Mrs Thatcher, and an eloquently dedicated piece on what the iron lady herself would’ve done at the helm of number 10 today.

The part the press have jumped upon was Boris’ surmise that greed is indeed good, it promotes competition and gets the best out of people. Cutting the wheat from the chaff. This is all very well but what exactly are we proposing to do with the chaff? And who are these people? We are.

In the words of Chaucer in the film a Knight’s Tale, “my lords, my ladies, and everybody else here not sitting on a cushion” – for those of you with cushions (my draft article classified the comfortably sat as the top 5% of UK high earners, but instead I will let you mull over your seating arrangements) I thank you most humbly for reading, and I implore you to continue. This is what life is like for the majority.

As I thought over this idea of pulling our best and brightest to the top, I mulled over one line that troubles me more than anything else I have heard in recent times, “…and [it would be] futile to try to stamp out inequality.” How are our bright and beautiful children supposed to blossom in a world where inequality is treated as a natural and even necessary part of life? This seems to be the standpoint for most of the major policies implemented over the past few years, leaving those that cannot keep up to sink further and further down the hierarchy of wealth.

As this year’s lecture points out, social mobility has put on its very sharp brakes. Whilst there will be (for the foreseeable future) a debated need for social mobility, it does not mean those on the bottom rungs should suffer in an attempt to make them up their game. Life doesn’t work in such a way, a fact that those who have lived in poverty know all too well.

Housing benefit claims are up by 320,738 since May 2010; out of the 5.1 million nearly one million are actually in work. Everyday, hard-working people are going home at night and rationing their food, their water. Putting on a second and third jumper to avoid putting the heating on. They are going back out to work a second job, when and if they can.

Those that are not in work are usually stuck between a rock and a hard place, in a job market that is demanding more and more from its employees for less and less. And no, this isn’t down to companies employing cheap foreign labour. It is down to large corporations not being held accountable for their actions. It’s about the lack of a living wage, the lack of understanding that we are but human. Are we going to suggest this all-too-large proportion is in dire straights due to a lack of trying? Or the guile to say that they’re in this situation because of a low IQ? Because at this point the echo of dystopia is becoming too loud for even my ears.

The Mayor of London did have some very valid points though: by 2050 we will supposedly be the largest country in the EU. Mr Johnson believes we will be a powerhouse on the international stage making an almighty comeback. With the right government in place, he’s probably right. We have become a country of apathy, when it is empathy that will ultimately save us. Great Britain gained its adjective by creating itself through a melting pot of cultures and ideas.

Today we must realise our mistakes, realise that our next generation cannot and will not have their lives dictated by standardised tests, by our expectations of their futures, by our social norms. Not successfully. No, we must teach our children how to learn, not conform. We are in the 21st century, the age of technology and sharing of information. We cannot hood wink those who are next in line any more, we can only tell them the stories of our successes, and of our failures.

I can only hope that one day, our offspring will not be blinkered to other possibilities outside of their comfort zone as we have been. By this I do not mean a revolution. No, merely the realisation that other people, other political parties, other countries may have done a better job than theirs that they can build on for the betterment of everyone. Whether they sit on the most sumptuous of fabrics or are laying in the gutter, as long as they’re looking at the stars.

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Kate Taylor is a sociologist, mother and tea and cake lover. When not working in sociological and marketing research with her company, Galilee Research, Kate can be found talking about political philosophy on the school run.