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At four years old, Dr Faiza Shaheen was told by her mum that one day she would study at the University of Oxford. As the daughter of a car mechanic attending state schools, the odds were low, but she worked hard and succeeded. Today, she’s a leading statistician and standing for election as a Member of Parliament.
Why do we glorify success as personal triumph like this? These narratives purposely erase the role of public services, where you are born, and luck – and they tell us that anyone can follow the same path.
Rather than making working-class mobility the norm, what Faiza accomplished makes her an exception, and it’s statistically impossible for everyone to be the exception. The inconvenient truth, as this book proves, is that social mobility is a fairy tale. Society today will not give most of us the chance of a secure and fulfilling life. That is unacceptable.
Part memoir, part polemic, Know Your Place is a personal and statistical look at how society and the economy are structured, what really defines your life chances and how our current system keeps us locked into an ugly hierarchy. But more than that, it’s a powerful call for collective fighting to reinvent things as we want them to be; it’s about breaking out, finding hope and not staying in your place. We can change things, and this is how.