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Opportunity and aspiration: two sides of the same coin?

Chris Creegan

10 December 2008

Discussion of social evils on a theme of 'inequality' which argues that until we can reconcile the problems of excessive individualism and greed, life opporunities will continue to be lost.


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The JRF's recent public consultation revealed a strong sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society. This Viewpoint continues the discussion about modern 'social evils' on the theme of 'inequality'. Chris Creegan argues that until we can reconcile the problems of excessive individualism, consumerism and greed at the heart of contemporary society, life opportunities will continue to be lost, limited and wasted.

Chris Creegan, Deputy Director of the Qualitative Research Unit at the National Centre for Social Research

Key points

  • During people's lives, opportunities can be truncated: lost, limited or wasted through circumstances and events that they have varying degrees of control over.
  • Truncation of opportunity prevents aspirations from being realised. The relationship between opportunity and aspiration is a more level playing field for some of us than for others.
  • We need to reframe the relationship between opportunity and aspiration – thinking not only about the opportunities and aspirations of individual citizens, but also of society as a whole.
  • We cannot achieve this without listening to people whose voices are not usually heard, including those directly affected by the inequality caused by truncated opportunity.
  • Truncation of opportunity can take many forms. For example, opportunities can be lost in old age, limited by caring responsibilities, or wasted through drug or alcohol misuse.
  • The reality is that, whether loss of opportunity is caused by imposed constraints or individual choices, if you are disadvantaged through poverty and inequality the limitations imposed are greater and the escape routes fewer.
  • While poverty of aspiration is a serious problem, impoverished aspiration can also fuel excessive individualism, consumerism and greed, which exacerbates inequality.
  • Reframing the relationship between opportunity and aspiration must include listening to those with experience of truncated opportunity.
  • Democracy is becoming deeply eroded. Making sure everyone votes provides a democratic safety net and is one important way of eliciting voices which are often unheard.
  • We need a society where individual aspirations for a better life and shared aspirations for equality are not mutually exclusive, but two sides of the same coin.

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