The Real Cost of Being Poor


Toffs, posh boys, snobs – call them what you will, you can’t deny the existence of  the great ‘rich-poor divide’. Whilst we have come a long way from kings and paupers, the scars of this social reality are still very much felt today, particularly in us: the  younger generation stepping out in life. But with evermore focus on ‘positive discrimination’, perhaps this debate is taking a turn for the proletariat.

The purely academic advantage provided by a private education is undeniably concrete, with independent school pupils three times more likely to achieve top grades at A levels. From a university perspective, it’s easy to be drawn into their impressive resumes and  prestigious line up of extra curricula activities- the likes of which  could not be afforded in state education. Similarly only 24% of state school pupils gain entrance to the most selective universities, proving there is still a long way to go for equalised footing. Nevertheless, compared with the top jobs that once came guaranteed with a silver spoon, the playing field is slowly becoming levelled.

public school

In comparison to the rigid structure of private schooling, the  rich ‘life’ experience offered by state schools is clearly becoming a valued currency , as UCAS data shows record numbers of disadvantaged 18 year olds applied to higher education this year. Southampton in particular was praised for its ever increasing proportions of disadvantaged  students.

Surprisingly, the drastic tuition fee rise may have also proved beneficial to the poorest of students, with universities charging over £6000 being forced to sign an agreement to spend a proportion of their income on financially supporting them.

Although obviously a step in the right direction, there is perhaps an undercurrent of bitterness from some of those who are now shunned for their state educated counterparts, a decision probably encouraged by positive discrimination. Whilst the debate of the quality of private vs state education continues to elude a resolution, the cost and pay-off of social class teeters on an unstable equilibrium.

state cuts

Yes, private schoolers get better A-levels, but those with a state education tend to go on to get better degrees. And yes, the Times recently issued statistics suggesting 80% of key positions in Britain are held by those with a pricey education, but elsewhere there is little concrete evidence to suggest that a state education leads to poorer job prospects. In fact, once admitted to university, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between state and private schooled individuals.

So what does this mean? Perhaps the cost of being poor today is less than that of being  privileged, with universities being urged to accept disadvantaged students, and a more ready source of financial aid available. The moral of the story seems to be that, ultimately, your educational background will have less to do with your future than your individual credentials, making it down to each individual to make themselves shine – whether that be because of or despite their upbringing.


Discussion1 Comment

  1. avatar

    I went to a state school and don’t feel disadvantaged in the slightest. If anything, when I came to uni I felt more prepared than privately educated people who, from the ones I met, seemed to have lived their lives in bubbles before Uni. Certainly, once at Uni everyone is on a level playing field, I got on the same course as privately educated people without spending a small fortune on getting here.

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