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House of Commons Hansard
11 July 2017
Volume 627

    [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered Government policies on social mobility.

    It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. This debate builds on debates that were called in the previous Parliament. I believe that social mobility—or the lack thereof for the many—is the big issue of our time. It is creating a divided Britain, which not only is bad for our economy and our future, but is the defining issue of our time, as we have seen in recent elections and referendums.

  • The recent report on social mobility confirmed the points that have been raised about our divided nation. Over the past 20 years we have come to have a new geographical divide, an income divide and a generational divide. The geographical divide is between successful city regions and places such as my constituency of Colne Valley and Kirklees, which have seen a lack of regional investment, leading to cuts that are affecting the most vulnerable. This Government have failed to address social inequality in all three areas.

  • I thank my new hon. Friend for raising those important points, which I will elaborate on further.

  • Not that the hon. Lady needs any time to prepare her answer to that question, but may I just say that I think the gentlemen might be suffering a little with the heat? It is very warm, so colleagues should please feel free to remove their jackets.

  • That is why some of us wore dresses.

    There is the intergenerational inequality and the lack of opportunity for today’s young people to progress, which I think was brought to the fore in the general election, and there is also the huge regional inequality that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) mentioned.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on such an important topic. The Government are currently undertaking the youth full-time social action review, and last year I was lucky enough to visit City Year UK, which is a full-time social action programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to support such organisations and that the Government should listen to the review’s recommendations when they are published in December?

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I sure that the Minister will listen to what he has to say.

    We have huge regional inequality and many communities have been left behind, which I think was expressed in the Brexit vote. We have stubborn wealth inequality, with a growing divide between rich and poor. Our country’s failings on social mobility is the national challenge. As the Social Mobility Commission’s excellent report “Time For Change: An Assessment of Government Policies on Social Mobility 1997-2017” shows, despite some progress and well-intentioned policies, progress by successive Governments over the past 20 years has been painfully slow. The report by the commission, which is chaired by the right hon. Alan Milburn, states that

    “successive governments have failed to make social mobility the cornerstone of domestic policy”.

    That is the argument that I am putting forward today.

  • My hon. Friend is right to refer to the report, because it is a powerful document. Much of it talks about the need for investment in early years and schools as the vehicle for social mobility. How does she think the Government can square that with the cuts to early years and schools? For example, Parrs Wood High School in my constituency—a school she knows well—faces losing the equivalent of 30 teachers between now and 2020.

  • My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Parrs Wood High School, which I attended and which my son now attends, is an outstanding comprehensive school, but it will struggle to continue to be so if those cuts come forward.

  • Perhaps we will hear more from the Minister on that point.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for calling the debate, which provides us with a good opportunity. Will she welcome the fact that in her constituency 29,686 more children are in good or outstanding schools than were in August 2010? Is not that great progress from this Government?

  • We have seen some great progress and I will come on to that. In my constituency most of that progress has come from local leadership as well, and I will mention that later.

  • What the Minister says is belied by the fact that in further education in Coventry there have been cuts of roughly 27% and in the youth service there will be no funding for youth leaders, which does not exactly help the situation. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are not careful we will create another lost generation?

  • My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Post-16 and youth service funding is critical to the debate and I will touch on that later.

    I urge all colleagues to read the Social Mobility Commission’s powerful report. It highlights the fact that the challenges we faced in 1997 are very different from those we face in 2017. It rightly calls for social mobility to be at the heart of all Government policy, decisions and actions, because it is only through a prolonged, determined and comprehensive Government-wide strategy that we may actually start to change the entrenched inequalities and the lack of social mobility for the many. The social mobility agenda is about the many, not the tiny few we often hear about who manage to get themselves from the council estate to the boardroom or around the Cabinet table. The Prime Minister says that she is looking for a national purpose that brings all parties and the country together, and I say to her that if she made tackling social mobility her calling and the key test for her Government, against which all her actions were tested, she would get wide support from across the House.

    Before looking at some of the policy areas where more needs to be done, let us remind ourselves why tackling the divides in Britain is so important. The Sutton Trust has found that failing to improve Britain’s low levels of social mobility will cost the UK economy a staggering £140 billion a year by 2050, or the equivalent of 4% of GDP. On current trends, by 2022 there will be 9 million low-skilled people chasing just 4 million low-skilled jobs, yet there will be a shortfall of 3 million higher-skilled people for the jobs of the future. The economic divides are even starker when we look at the regional disparities. Output per person in London is more than £43,000 a year, yet in the north-east of England it is less than £19,000. London and some of our renewed cities, such as my own city of Manchester, are increasingly the home of graduates and have vibrant growing economies.

  • Getting kids from ordinary backgrounds to university is a key way of enabling them to move up and get on. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the previous Labour Government on increasing student numbers, while acknowledging that there is still work to be done, particularly in post-industrial towns such as Ashfield, where we send only 21% of 18-year-olds to university, compared with an English national average of 32%?

  • My hon. Friend’s excellent point fits entirely with one of the main thrusts of the Social Mobility Commission’s report, which is that there are huge regional inequalities, particularly between our growing and vibrant cities, where many graduates live and work, and our heartland towns and former industrial places.

  • My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does she agree that it is not just geography but ethnicity that makes a difference? We sing long about the successes of London, but if we look at who is doing well in our schools, we see that it tends to be young people from black and Asian backgrounds, with white working-class kids still not making progress.

  • That is another excellent point. My hon. Friend will know about that issue from her own constituency.

  • Will the hon. Lady give way?

  • Yes, but then I will have to make some progress.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I commend her for securing this debate on a topic I know she is passionate about, and about which she has spoken passionately in the past. She was just talking about access to higher education. Will she welcome the fact that access for working-class families is at an all-time high, with students from working-class backgrounds now 70% more likely to apply to university than 10 years ago? Indeed, that was one of the areas on which the Milburn report gave a green light when evaluating the Government’s progress.

  • I am happy to accept that point, which the report talks about more broadly, but challenges remain. There are some warning signs on the horizon and we should be careful that we do not end up taking a backward step in this important area.

    The Social Mobility Commission has found that the generational divide is yawning. Over the past 20 years, poverty among pensioners has halved and their income today, on average, exceeds that of working adults. Meanwhile, young people’s earnings have fallen. That cannot continue. It is no wonder that we saw a huge upsurge of anger, activism and engagement from younger voters at the general election. The wealth and income divide has also become much wider over the past 20 years, with top pay increasing much faster than the incomes of lower earners. In 1998 the highest earners were paid 47 times that of the lowest. By 2015 the highest earners were paid 128 times more than the lowest. Gaps in wealth have also grown exponentially, with home ownership and house price inflation benefiting the lucky few who already own their home. It is not just about the economic price we pay for these failings; as a society, these divisions are causing unrest, anger and resentment. That is leading to political volatility and, arguably, the rise of populism.

    Those are just some of the reasons why the social mobility agenda is so important. It needs to be not only at the heart of all Government policy, but a national mission for our country. Successive Prime Ministers—Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and our current Prime Minister—have spoken a great deal about social mobility. Most recently, the current Prime Minister spoke about the “burning injustices” of our society. However, the Government’s approach, while making progress in some areas, has not matched the rhetoric and has been piecemeal and disconnected.

    Let us look at what could be done about social mobility. There are many recommendations in the Social Mobility Commission report and from the Sutton Trust, Teach First and many others. Recommendations should not be limited to education policy—far from it. Every Budget, every Bill and every policy should be judged against whether it tackles inequalities and boosts social mobility for everybody, everywhere. There needs to be a single cross-departmental plan to deliver social mobility.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and making an excellent opening speech. We know that the challenge with social mobility begins in childhood. An estimated 3,300 children in my constituency are living in households with problem debt. One suggestion has been to give a breathing space to families facing problem debt by giving them 12 months to try to get back on their feet. Does she agree that that is one step the Government could take to make a big difference to families getting themselves out of problem debt?

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is another great idea that I hope the Minister will respond to, and it shows the extent to which these policy areas need to be looked at across the piece.

    Tackling social mobility also means looking at difficult issues such as inheritance tax, transport spending and social care. All those policies need to be looked at through the lens of social mobility. However, today I will focus on a few areas for which the Minister has responsibility, and for which the evidence and action needed are known and relatively straightforward. The first is early years, which colleagues and the Minister will know is a bug bear of mine, so I hope they will allow me to expand on that for a moment. It is well documented that by the time children reach the age of five there is already a big gap in school readiness or development between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. Action for Children found that more than half of children from low-income families do not reach the expected milestones by the age of five. Often that gap is never fully closed during a child’s schooling.

    Given that we know some of what works, why are we not doing more? Over the past 20 years we have made some progress through family support services, Sure Start centres, quality early education and targeted approaches, such as the offer for two-year-olds. However, in recent times and with what is upcoming, the agenda seems to be moving backwards.

  • My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that one of the Departments that needs to be brought into this conversation is the Home Office? I am thinking specifically about incidents of domestic violence, which have been increasing in my constituency. Experiencing and being a victim of domestic violence impacts on children, particularly very young children, and their educational attainment.

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Being in a domestic violence setting at home can have the most profound impact on the outcome of any child. We need to link that with children’s services and other family support services. She is absolutely right.

    The Government’s emphasis is now almost entirely on childcare support for working families. That is a laudable aim in itself, but it perhaps focuses huge resources away from social mobility outcomes. Almost all the money for the 30 hours of free childcare for working families and tax-free childcare will go towards better-off families. Those policies are taking the Government’s focus away from other issues. By definition, the most disadvantaged do not get the extra support, and the delivery of the new policies is also having a real impact on quality institutions

  • The hon. Lady must understand that people working 16 hours on the minimum wage qualify for the additional 15 hours of funded childcare. Indeed, many people who cannot get into the workplace because of the cost of childcare will take the opportunity of 30 hours of childcare from September. That policy is a great achievement and will improve social mobility among people on low wages.

  • By definition, the most disadvantaged will not benefit from the policy. What we are seeing in some places, certainly in Manchester and other local authority areas, is that free childcare was given to the most disadvantaged, but that is now having to be switched from them to deliver the 30 hours for working families, and that surely is not what the Government intended. The Minister needs to have a look at that. Another unintended consequence of the new offer is the impact on our maintained nursery schools, which are an outstanding resource. Every single one—100%—of our maintained nursery schools are good or outstanding. Nearly all of them are in areas of high deprivation and disadvantage, but due to the new funding formula and the changes to funding, they are now under threat. Ministers need to look at the policies they are delivering and ensure that they meet the social mobility test and are not simply about getting people back into work.

    Action for Children, the Social Mobility Commission and many others are calling for a clear plan to boost social mobility in the early years. That must include quality teaching, family support, children centres getting the resources they need and boosting the early years pupil premium. What happened to the life chances strategy that the Government spent two or three years working towards? It seems to have evaporated overnight.

    Next, I want to turn my attention to schools. I do not want to take up too much time, although I have taken lots of interventions. As Teach First has shown, the social mobility challenge in our schools remains. While much progress has been made at primary, progress remains slow at key stage 4. One in three teenagers from poor families achieve basic GCSEs, compared with two thirds overall. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) highlighted, if bright children from poor families had the same support as others, four in 10 would go to a top university. Today, only one in 10 does.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing an important debate. She is making some excellent points, but in improving the life chances of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, is there not a case for putting money behind university outreach programmes to identify young people with ability and talent, as happened under the previous Labour Government? That would make opportunities for those people so that they can be helped into careers that they otherwise might not have thought were even possible, such as healthcare, where there is a real lack of people from working class and disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The widening participation agenda has been successful in places and is important, but other barriers to getting those jobs remain for kids who perhaps do not have the same social networks or support at home, even if they have the same qualifications as some of their peers.

  • The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech in this important debate. I think we can build a cross-party consensus, based on the report, about access to social and emotional learning. I might call it character education—I think one of her predecessors as shadow Secretary of State for Education and I debated that issue. Persistence, resilience and grit skills, as well as self-confidence and self-belief, are very important. They are often not given the same weight and therefore those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds do not get that access; access to extra-curricular activities is picked up in a similar way. Would the hon. Lady agree that that is something from the debate that could benefit from cross-party working?

  • I strongly agree with the right hon. Lady. I thank her for the joint working we have done on some of the issues in the past, and I hope that that will continue. When she was Secretary of State for Education, she was a strong champion for character education and extra-curricular education. I hope that that is something we can all work on going forward.

  • All the additions are absolutely right, but the foundation has got to be strong as well; the funding for our school places is important. If my son Jack decides to go to university, he will be the first in our family to do that, but the school that he is attending faces loses 19 teachers. The sixth-form college that he would almost certainly go to faces losing 22 teachers. At the same time, the Government have wasted more than £10 million on a failed university technical college and a failed free school. How can that make sense?

  • My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I know that he has been championing the issues in Oldham, and I hope to work with him to continue to do that. I will say something on school funding in a moment, if I could make some progress.

    Of all the measures and policies of the last 20 years, one that stands out as transformational for our schools is the London Challenge. London went from having some of the worst schools to now achieving the narrowest attainment gap of anywhere in the country. It is a key part of the overall London effect; 30 of the top 50 constituencies for social mobility are in London.

    There are two key learnings from the London Challenge, which are now seriously at risk. The first is the supply of great teachers. The Minister’s colleague in the Department for Education has finally started to recognise that recruitment and retention are major issues. Figures obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) show that a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have left the profession. Statistic after statistic backs that up, and we know that it is the poorest children and the struggling schools that suffer most when teacher numbers drop.

    Teachers deserve a pay rise. Yesterday’s pay settlement is a huge disappointment. Real wages of teachers are down by more than 10%. But it is not just about pay; it is about workload and the constant changes to curriculums and expectations. Ministers really must get a grip of the issue and do it fast.

    The second learning from the London Challenge is about funding, which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) mentioned. The increase in school budgets over many years, coupled with targeted support such as the pupil premium, has had a real impact on the attainment gap, which was narrowing until very recently. It has narrowed significantly in London, where funding was boosted the most. The real terms cuts to schools’ budgets that schools are now having to make—before we even get to the national funding formula—will, again, hit the poorest hardest. Interventions, extra support and supported activities all benefit the poorest most. Recent teacher polling has shown that a third of school leaders are now using the pupil premium to plug the gaps in general funding, that almost two thirds of secondary heads had had to cut back on teaching staff and that schools with more disadvantaged intakes were the most likely to report cuts to staffing.

    The Government are totally kidding themselves if they think that the real terms cuts to school budgets, together with the teacher supply crisis, are not going to show in a widening of the attainment gap and a major step back in social mobility in our schools.

  • I met with the headteacher of Ashfield Comprehensive yesterday. The school faces a budget cut of almost £1 million from last September to this September, and he is facing a choice between bigger class sizes and fewer subjects. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the sort of thing that hinders social mobility?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are some of the unpalatable decisions that headteachers are having to make. There is no question but that those decisions will have a real impact on outcomes, so I am sure we would all support the Minister going back to the Treasury to say that the real-terms cuts need addressing, and quickly.

    Social mobility should be at the heart of education policy; every part of the system should work to unleash the talents of all young people. That means that existing grammar schools must do more to tackle the issues, rather than entrenching advantage and damaging wider social mobility. I am very pleased that the Government have dropped their plans to open new grammar schools. However, they said that they would tackle social mobility in existing grammar schools. Figures that I have released today show that since 2016, the number of children on free school meals in grammar schools has hardly shifted at all—it has gone up by just 0.1 percentage point—despite calls from Ministers that existing grammar schools should increase their intake of low-income children.

    In the “Schools that work for Everyone” consultation, Ministers said that existing grammar schools needed to do more. They are now saying that they feel that they have fulfilled that objective and so are dropping plans to require existing grammar schools to address the issue. If existing grammar schools do not reform their admissions and play their part in boosting social mobility, they should cease to receive public funding. We should be rewarding the schools that do the most for pupil progress for the majority of pupils, and that narrow the attainment gap, which is why we should reform league tables so that they show not just attainment but pupil progress, and progress in narrowing the attainment gap.

    I cannot cover everything in the short time we have. Needless to say, huge gaps remain in post-16 education. I hope that the new T-levels and quality apprenticeships will help to address that, but that will happen only if they remain focused entirely on social mobility outcomes and people do not get distracted by other agendas. As others have said, and as the Sixth Form Colleges Association and others have shown, post-16 funding in Britain is still among the lowest in the OECD. We need to address that too.

    As we have discussed previously, access to university and, crucially, outcomes and access to work beyond university remain a huge concern. Too few graduates are working in graduate jobs; in fact, we have the third lowest level of graduates working in graduate jobs of all OECD countries. The only countries behind us in that league table are Greece and Estonia. That is a travesty and it brings into question whether the debt, and the exercise, is worth it. Destinations of graduates and others are still most determined not by qualification and ability but by networks and social connections.

    We could have a whole other debate about regional inequalities and how we boost social mobility everywhere. The devolution agenda that we all support must also have social mobility at its heart.

    I know that the Minister will want to tell us why we cannot afford any of these plans. I would say that we cannot afford not to do them. Our economy and society pays a heavy price for people working below their ability and for wasted talent and wasted communities. The Minister’s economics are false economics and will end up costing us dear in the long run. Achieving a step-change in social mobility for the many, not just the lucky few, is the challenge of our time. Opportunity and progress for the young, a new deal for left-behind communities and a radical rethink on tax and spend policies all need reshaping around a new national mission to make Britain a world leader in social mobility, not a country that sits towards the bottom of the pack, as we do today. Although Brexit will dominate and define, I am sure that we across the House will all come together around that national mission.

  • I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for securing this important debate. The Government have made significant progress on tackling social mobility, but we need to do more to remove the barriers that stand in people’s way. People should not be prevented from fulfilling their potential because of their age, family circumstance, race, disability, sexuality, postcode or simply how much their parents earn. Too often, the ladder of opportunity runs out of rungs pretty quickly. The Government are already getting on with some of that, and we are seeing results. I am sure my hon. Friends will want to talk in more detail about that.

  • Is the hon. Gentleman aware that half of 18 to 24-year-olds believe that their destination in life is based on their parents’ socioeconomic status? How depressing is that in the 21st century?

  • I am aware of that. The hon. Lady may not be aware of this, but in Scotland roughly one in five people leave school and go straight into the dole queue. That is why it is important that we look at both Governments’ policies on improving social mobility and continuing to provide good jobs. The record employment under this Conservative Government is so important.

  • I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place as a newly elected Member. He is talking about the figures for Scotland, but does he recognise that, under the Scottish Government, more children are progressing from school to positive destinations than ever before? [Interruption.]

  • Order. A phone just went off. Can people keep their phones on mute or vibrate?

  • I am aware of that, but some of the things the Scottish Government consider to be positive destinations are things that most people would not consider to be so.

    The Government are getting on with some of those things, but we need to be imaginative in our responses. We know that two children with parents on the same income and with the same educational qualifications will experience different levels of social mobility depending on their surroundings. A person is more likely to be upwardly mobile if they live in a mixed socioeconomic neighbourhood, so how do we create policies that bring different parts of the community together and expose our children to people with different views, values and backgrounds?

    More and more people are working atypical hours, which often conflict with the opening hours of essential public services. If someone does not have a network to fall back on or someone to pick their kids up from school, they are more likely to drop out of the jobs market. If someone struggles to get a doctor’s appointment around their working hours, they are much less likely to get early help for a health problem.

    As well as social mobility, we need to talk about social exclusion, because the latter is hugely detrimental to the former. Of course, a huge driver of social mobility is earning power and the confidence and self-reliance that comes from being in work. Conservative action to support a modern industrial strategy, invest in infrastructure, provide city deals for places such as the Glasgow city region, and cut taxes for small businesses, corporations and families alike, is helping to drive employment growth. We have more jobs and record employment. More low-paid are out of taxation, and the national living wage has been introduced. Those things really matter, because they broaden opportunity, deliver jobs and improve future generations’ life chances.

    It is true that in-work poverty is too high in Scotland and the rest of the UK. There are UK-wide levers, such as tax and benefits policy and the national minimum wage, but the agenda can be set at a more regional level, both by the devolved Administrations—particularly Scotland, if there are further transfers of tax and social security powers—and by local councils. That should not be overlooked. Regional economic development can drive up wages and increase the demand for employees to work more hours. Skills development can help workers move into better-paid jobs, and a focus on economic diversification can aid unsatisfied workers change industry. For example, the underemployed—people who would like more hours but cannot get them—are more likely to work in fluid sectors such as hospitality and retail. That all helps to motor social mobility, and it must continue to form the cornerstone of the policy agenda. The Taylor report provides a fantastic opportunity for the Government to revisit many of the structural issues in the modern world of work, and to adapt and create policy that takes the new landscape into account.

    Although education is devolved, there are things that we can learn from each other on both sides of the border. I believe that a good education is the single biggest social mobility tool we can provide. Much of the education debate centres on higher education and tuition fees, so I was pleased that the hon. Member for Manchester Central focused more on early years, because that is key. Many people have been dealt their cards for life by the time long before they fill in their UCAS form, so if we are serious about social mobility, funding has to be ploughed into early years. It is about not just increasing hours for three and four-year-olds, which most parents cannot access anyway—the Governments in Westminster and Edinburgh appear to be in an arms race to do that—but investing in high-quality childcare.

    The Scottish Conservatives have a distinct voice and get it right on that issue. We say, first, that before increasing hours for three and four-year-olds, we need to extend the current allowance to two-year-olds and more disadvantaged one-year-olds; and, secondly, that we need to ensure that funding is used to train up a more highly qualified professional workforce. Early years education and childcare need to have a real purpose of intent. We must develop literacy and numeracy, which are dropping very quickly in Scottish schools, as well as social skills, to narrow the divide that is currently so wide as to be almost irrecoverable by the time our kids walk through the primary school gates. We must bridge the gap between the point maternity leave ends and free childcare provision begins. We need to understand that the driver of social mobility is in those crucial early years, when the attainment gap takes root.

    Students from the most advantaged areas are four times more likely to go to university than those from the least advantaged areas in Scotland—it three times more likely in Wales and Northern Ireland, which is lower but still high, and two and a half times more likely in England. That starts right back in nursery. In Scotland, the gap in attainment can start as early 18 months.

  • My hon. Friend is making a very thoughtful contribution to this excellent debate. I completely agree with him about the need for investment in early years. We need to take a longer-term look at public investment, which does not always happen, to ensure the investment improves children’s life chances from very early on. Given that local government budgets in England are under a lot of pressure, and that a lot of early years funding comes from local authorities, what is his advice to the British Government about how to improve things in England, drawing on his Scottish learning?

  • I have learned that it does not tend to go down well when Scottish MPs stick their oar in, so English MPs should deal with their own system. There have been large local government cuts to the settlements in Scotland, which are impacting on services. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the long-term view, but unfortunately Governments of all colours in all Parliaments around the UK often look for short-term quick fixes.

    One of the things I am particularly pleased to see down here in Westminster is the UK Government’s focus on technical and vocational education. We have not seen that in Scotland, where there have been huge cuts to technical education and more than 150,000 college places have been cut. The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government have decided to value academic education over and above technical education. That is completely the wrong way to do it. I am very excited to see what these changes and reforms in the English school system will do. The Scottish Government have finally given way a bit on things such as Teach First. The hon. Member for Manchester Central talked about the London Challenge, which was hugely successful, and which we can learn a lot from in Scotland. I am very excited to see how some of those reforms play out.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. He would accept, though, that the Scottish Government have very recently announced that they will be putting £750 million extra into closing the attainment gap.

  • I would, but the Scottish Government have been in power for 10 years, and they seem only now to have decided to make education their priority. That has come a bit too late for many families and a lost generation of kids who have been in education under devolution.

  • My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I welcome him to his place. I want to touch on his comments about technical and further education. I have campaigned in this House to ensure parity of esteem between those routes and higher education. He talked about filling out UCAS forms. I have talked to Ministers about the idea of having a UCAS for apprenticeships system, which Alan Milburn recommends in his report and which was included in the Government’s industrial strategy. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming that proposal, which could ensure parity of esteem and make it easier for young people to embrace a career outside university?

  • Absolutely. Just to be controversial, I commend the Scottish Government on the work they are seeking to do on apprenticeships. They have cottoned on to that major issue and are doing some good work on that front.

  • I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of apprenticeships. It is important that we focus on access to university and higher education, but for an awful lot of young people, a route into an apprenticeship can unlock their potential. I co-chair the all-party group on apprenticeships, and we are launching a report today that focuses on what the Government can do to increase massively what schools and colleges do to promote apprenticeships, to ensure that schools are incentivised to send their children and young people into apprenticeships rather than just the university route. Otherwise, they close up avenues to young people who would benefit from apprenticeships. I encourage the Government to take up some of the recommendations in the report.

  • The hon. Lady makes me think of the number of graduates not going into graduate-entry jobs, which the hon. Member for Manchester Central mentioned earlier. Partly that is because of the exponential rise in the number of graduates, and because the UK jobs market has not kept pace with it. That brings us to the wider issue of whether there are a lot of people going to university whose future potential would be best tapped into through another route.

    Kids learn differently, so we need to allow them to be taught differently. They have different skillsets, so we need to have an education system that allows all of those skillsets to be nurtured and developed. Ultimately, kids have different aspirations and goals and we need to ensure that we have guidance and routes in place to help every child get to where they want to be, rather than being funnelled automatically through to university education as a default, which is what happens in a lot of schools.

    Many have said in the past that poverty is a cost that the UK cannot afford. They are right. We need to move from treating the symptoms of poverty to treating its underlying and fundamental causes. The commission, which is a few years old now, found that £4 in every £10 was spent on dealing with the causes of poverty after they had occurred, not on preventing them. That simply wastes bad money.

    The Government have a great story to tell, but people are ultimately more than numbers on a spreadsheet or plots on a graph. Social mobility and the effectiveness of the Government’s policies are measured just as much in how people feel their lives are going on the ground. Far too many people feel let down and passed by. It is simply not okay for the UK to be a country where it is still better to be rich and a bit dim than poor and clever.

    What was so important about the Prime Minister’s first speech outside No. 10 was that, like David Cameron’s life chances agenda, it understood that, although income is crucial, we will not get rid of poverty and improve social mobility by lifting income levels alone. We have to deal with some of the underlying causes, which means that too many people simply do not get a fair shot.

    It is absolutely vital that, whatever else might be going on, the Government go back to the speech and put it at the heart of everything they do. If they can do that, they can truly tackle the potential sapping prejudices people face every day and make a real push on social mobility.

  • Order. There are five speakers. I shall impose a time limit of three minutes because of the amount of interest in this debate, and because we have to allow time for the Front Benchers to wind up.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this debate. Obviously, party political points can be made about funding and the closure of Sure Start and children’s centres and suchlike but, leaving those to one side, I hope the Minister will not be defensive. He was very defensive in responding to one or two of the comments made and said, “Oh, this is what the Government are doing.” My hon. Friend had a powerful message: there is a need for a national crusade to tackle inequality and social mobility in our country. The various reports that have been mentioned have a powerful message. They state that there has been progress, but under successive Governments it has been slow and the gap between people has increased. It is now a national disgrace that, in one of the richest countries in the world, life is so unequal and so lacking in opportunity for people born into certain situations. The Minister needs to respond to that challenge rather than say, “This is what we are doing.” There is a time for a party political debate, but this is not the right time.

    I will explain why I think this issue is so important. I started teaching in 1976. After my post-graduate course, I was able to choose which school I went to. I had studied social background and educational attainment, so I chose to go to a school with some of the most difficult challenges. The school was in an educational priority area. Teachers were paid more money to go there and the best people were recruited. If we went back to that area now, 40 or so years later, we would find that many of the same families are still stuck in a state of poverty and low achievement. I am not a prophet of doom, but that tells us that that situation simply cannot be right. It is simply unacceptable that we drive round our cities or our rural areas and can almost point to where there is low achievement and low aspiration. The challenge to the Government—hopefully the next Labour Government—is what are they going to do about it? We cannot go back to the policies that have not worked or have worked too slowly.

    This is difficult for the Minister. We cannot pass a law that says there should be good parenting, but some of our families and parents need more support. It cannot be right that sometimes when a child goes to school or nursery, they cannot use a knife and fork. Something is wrong and we need to look at how we support families to get their children to the point they need to be at to enter our schools or our nurseries. We need to get them to the point where we can really say social mobility is the priority of whatever Government of the day.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for a very thoughtful speech, particularly on evaluating pupil progression and outcomes for graduates. There is much more work we can do in both those areas. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) for his excellent speech.

    Opportunity for all was my calling into politics—we all have our own individual callings. I went to a school that was at the bottom of the league tables. My father died at an early age and I understood the importance of opportunity for all, regardless of background. In my remaining two and a half minutes, while celebrating the fact that record employment has seen youth unemployment in my constituency fall by a staggering 61%, which is a vital tool for helping social mobility, I have a quick wish list of things that I want a proactive and constructive Government to deliver.

    First, it is welcome that 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools, but as a society we need to do more to celebrate the very best of teachers: those who have made the biggest difference, particularly to those from the most challenging backgrounds. We need to make more of those really outstanding individuals. I am not biased because my father, grandma and grandad were all teachers.

    We need far more mentors to come into schools, engaging the local business community and the voluntary sector, because the people who have made a difference can inspire young people. I still remember my careers teacher telling me I had no chance of getting into Parliament, so anything is possible.

    I am a big fan of university technical colleges, but they have a challenge. The entry level is two years after the typical secondary school enrolment, so there is a disincentive for secondary schools to suggest their best students go there. Perhaps the Government should consider lowering the age of entry or share the school league table results of the students so that those who are more technically minded can embrace their full potential.

    I am a huge fan of apprenticeships. I was proud once again to attend the graduation ceremony at Swindon College last week where people from some really challenging backgrounds have started their first step into a successful career. I love the idea of the UCAS system, but we need to do far more to promote the opportunities of apprenticeships to small businesses. The sugar tax is a wonderful opportunity to provide constructive sport, after-school and holiday activities, which make a difference to busy parents as well as providing enjoyment, confidence and teamwork skills.

    The national citizen service is a brilliant scheme, but in recent years I feel the quality of the leadership there is not as good as it used to be, so we are missing a trick. I am a big fan of the introduction of the named work coach in universal credit that will for the first time provide support for those in work and not just finding work. Finally, on the income divide between the older and younger generations, only six Governments since the second world war have collected more in taxation than they spend. When that does not happen, a further burden is put on our children. We must never forget that.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing another debate on this incredibly important subject. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility in the previous Parliament, I have read with increasing alarm the numerous reports produced by the Social Mobility Commission. Its recent report, “Time for Change”, was a real wake-up call. As my hon. Friend said, it is the challenge of our time. I was attracted to the idea of breaking down recommendations into four life stages, but the report shows that unless we get the right measures in place at the first stage in the early years, everything else becomes much more difficult. Sadly, falling behind in those early years is often a portent for one’s entire life.

    Hon. Members have already talked about the geographical divide, but there is also a generational one. I do not believe that the recent general election was a ringing endorsement of the status quo. We saw that the more young people engaged with the question of what they wanted from the Government, the more they turned away from the existing set-up—and who can blame them? Do they want to better themselves and study at university? There are more opportunities now, but they come with an eye-watering debt that might never be paid off. Do they want to own a home of their own? Unless the bank of mum and dad is there to fall back on, it could be a long wait. Do they want to build a career in a profession doing something rewarding, financially and intellectually? Those opportunities exist, but for the few, not the many.

    Young people’s more likely experience in the job market will be casual work, low pay and chronic insecurity. As the commission’s report highlights, young people’s wages have fallen by 16%; one in five people in the UK are stuck on low pay—a higher proportion than in comparable nations—wages have stagnated in real terms, leading to falling living standards, particularly for young people; and, although youth unemployment has fallen, the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training has barely changed. The number of young people receiving careers advice or work experience has fallen, and more new apprenticeships have gone to older workers than to younger ones.

    As the report suggests, we should adopt what I would describe as a “mobility in all” approach, and examine every Government policy or proposal for how it would improve social mobility. One good example of how we are not doing well at that is the Government’s decision to expand the number of medical school places. The all-party parliamentary group’s report on access to the professions recognised medicine as one of the areas in which those from privileged backgrounds are disproportionately represented. I recently asked the Minister a written question on what steps the Government were taking to address that. His response was:

    “Funding an additional 1,500 medical school places in England will provide more opportunities for people to study”.

    Perhaps it will, but without further intervention it is more likely just to repeat the pattern of professions being dominated by people from fee-paying schools.

    However, it is not only on access to professions that we need to do more. If the reports that up to a half of all jobs will be automated in the next decade are correct, we will have to undertake a massive, state-sponsored exercise in reskilling the workforce. The world of work is changing rapidly. Training and redeployment are threads that should run through a person’s entire life. Three, four or five career changes will be the norm in the future, and we are not ready for that.

  • It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. The recent work of the Social Mobility Commission, which has already been mentioned by a couple of hon. Members, was so damning that I rather suspect the commission is not long for this world. In two decades there has been no real progress: 20 years in which the only movement seems to have been backwards. From my brief look at the research papers, it appears that Scotland is not particularly included in the analysis. I do not know whether I would have found references to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if there had been more time, but the report seems mainly to be a body of work referring to England. Scotland, of course, has its own Government and Parliament, to take forward more progressive policies—policies so progressive that Labour copied them wholesale in its general election manifesto and was then praised for being radical.

    Social mobility, however, depends on a lot more than the current devolved powers can deliver. It requires easy access to social security—a helping hand for people who want to make a better life through education and perhaps start their own business. It also requires a good health service, good housing and a cohesive society. It needs opportunities to be available—an economy that works in the best interest of us all, rather than just a few. It needs the Government to take an attitude that encourages new enterprise rather than protecting those who already have money. Real social mobility requires an expansive, open attitude to the world—the kind of attitude that would embrace the EU and immigrants, and the opportunities that both bring. Social mobility needs parity of esteem between people, which seems to me to be in pretty poor supply in this place.

    To deal briefly with the commission’s research, it said that both Tory and Labour Governments have largely failed the people they were elected to represent. I was particularly taken by what it said about the stalling of young people’s ambitions or, to put it in brutal capitalist terms, the waste of the great resource of youth. Young people’s wages are lower now than they were in 1997, for goodness’ sake; they should be building their lives, and the economy should benefit from their frittering away, if you like, a decent disposable income before they get serious financial commitments that eat it all up. That is before we consider the damage that carrying a huge student loan does to people’s prospects.

  • First, I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that the rise in low pay is much slower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Secondly, given than in 2014 Alan Milburn said that a lack of political debate and engagement on social mobility in Scotland meant that it was sleepwalking into a social mobility crisis, does she accept that perhaps the Scottish Government had other things on their mind in about 2014, and that they took their eye off the ball in relation to social mobility policy?

  • I remind the hon. Gentleman that youth unemployment is at its lowest rate since records began in Scotland—it is the second lowest in the EU— that free tuition has been reintroduced and protected, so that young people do not start their working lives with enormous debts, and that a record number of Scots are supported into university. He appears to have forgotten those facts.

    The proportion of young people not in education, employment or training is still at the same level. A valuable workforce in England is wasted, sitting on the sidelines whiling their lives away. Retention and graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students have barely improved. Careers advice and work experience opportunities are disappearing and apprenticeships go to older rather than younger workers. Generation after generation have been failed by the paucity of ambition of Governments who thought it more important to curry favour with the wealthy and privileged, and left a fabulous resource untapped. That is short-sighted at best, and more likely cruel and thoughtless. Social progress and social justice require social mobility. Governments, Parliaments and politicians fail if we do not facilitate that.

  • I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) read a different report from the one I read, which highlighted both successful and unsuccessful policies. We should not finish the debate without mentioning one of the most extraordinary Ministers I have ever met—Lord Adonis. His work on the London challenge is a beacon, showing what can be done.

    Housing is the largest issue facing my south-west London constituency, so I want to mention some housing facts. Owning a home is an important part of people’s feelings of self-worth and success, and social mobility. It was the most financially important thing to happen to my mum and dad in their lives. That is why it is worrying that home ownership among the under-25s has dropped by 50%. Even more worryingly for children, home ownership rates for 24 to 35-year-olds have reduced from 59% to 37%. It strikes me as extraordinary that the report suggests that some of the poorest families spend 31% of their income on housing, because people coming to my surgery spend 110% of their income on it. They work but are completely dependent on housing benefit to pay their rent. As for the people at the top, in 1997 they spent 13% of their income on their house, whereas today they spend 8%.

    In 1997 the value of homes in relation to the income of their owners was in a ratio of 3.5:1, meaning that people could expect to buy a house worth 3.5 times their income. Today the ratio is 9.5:1. That is impossible to achieve, so we throw families with young children into the unregulated and uncontrolled private rented sector, where they have not only the monthly fear about whether they can clear their rent, but the knowledge that they can be evicted simply with a court order. The number of families I meet who have children—often disabled children—and who move house up to three times a year, and the thousands of children currently in poor temporary accommodation in the capital, paid for out of our taxes, is a ticking time bomb for social mobility. I hope that the Minister will discuss housing in his response.

  • It is a pleasure to take part in the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing the debate, and on her thorough speech. She had ample support from this well-populated Chamber.

    I want to mention a couple of speeches, including, obviously, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who has just taken over as the Scottish National party spokesperson on fair work and employment. She made a good speech about the situation in Scotland. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) discussed his past as a teacher and previous initiatives. He is right: social mobility is about more than education. In many ways we need to address the reasons for children turning up at school in an impoverished state. That is something that will be important. It is not just a matter of education, although that is a driver for improving social mobility. We need also to consider why some children arrive at school like that. At the end of the day, that comes down to money in people’s pockets, and we need to address it quickly.

    The “State of the Nation 2016” report highlights the devastating reality about social mobility in the UK:

    “The rungs on the social mobility ladder are growing further apart.”

    That is having an effect on an entire generation of young people. In fact, the Social Mobility Commission highlighted the fact that 35% of those aged between 18 and 24 in the UK believe that social mobility is getting worse. We live in a society where those from less advantaged backgrounds find it harder and harder to advance their social position in the UK. We therefore cannot afford to ignore their plight and watch the gap widen further.

    The Young Women’s Trust, already quoted, has shown that in the UK more than half of

    “young people said they feel worried for the future”.

    That includes those who are transitioning from full-time education to work, and those who are suffering as a result of poor vocational routes. The report from the trust continues:

    “As a result, young people are struggling to make ends meet, unable to move away from home or forced to live in insecure accommodation, skipping meals so they can feed their children and turning to food banks.”

    The UK Government should be absolutely appalled by such realities.

    The Social Mobility Commission’s analysis of the lack of mobility in the UK focuses on various life stages in which progress has or has not been made: no life stage has received a green rating; two are amber, “Early Years” and “Schools”; and two are red, “Young People” and “Working Lives”. That furthers the emphasis that should be placed on progressing the position of young people in society, and increasing incomes for all groups rather than just some.

    The House of Commons Library blog notes that young people—those in their 20s in particular—have seen their average incomes slump, thereby linking the challenges faced by the younger generation to the lack of productivity in our economy. Children are told that work is the best route to greater success, but how can that motivate them when so many see their parents struggling day in, day out for low wages, with the worst wage growth in 200 years, according to the Resolution Foundation, uncertain job security and reductions in the tax credits that were designed to help them?

    In Scotland, we have seen greater efforts to increase social mobility through free tuition fees, increased investment in education—in early years in particular, and £750 million invested in closing the attainment gap—and commitments from the Scottish Government to increase early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours per year by 2020. Those initiatives all aim to give every child the best start in life, regardless of their wealth or social background. The importance of free tuition fees remains prevalent and a key investment in the future of our young people. No child should be thwarted of an education through a fear of debt created by the harsh tuition fees imposed on students in the rest of the UK. We are therefore doing what we can in Scotland within the devolved framework.

    It is time for the UK Government to step up to the mark, using the full suite of their powers. To do so, they should examine the UK’s position in comparison with other countries around the world. A report by the Stanford Centre on Poverty and Inequality highlights the fact that social mobility in countries such as Denmark, Norway and Finland is far greater than that experienced in the UK. Instead, we are likened to and ranked lower than the US. The Economist has detailed issues with social mobility in the US by linking them to education. Many elite universities seek to find talent from all backgrounds, but the middle class are still left with huge debts to repay merely because they want the most desirable jobs, most of which require a university degree. The ways of US education further the Stanford Centre’s analysis that

    “the American Dream is evidently more likely to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, indeed most notably in Denmark”.

    Looking to the practices of Scandinavian countries and learning from their efforts would ensure that a more proactive approach is taken to increase social mobility across society, rather than having it focused on the privileged few. Denmark in particular invests largely in its education, thereby allowing the cognitive skills of low-income children to benefit. It is time to invest in our services and our people to allow the best outcomes for people from all backgrounds to flourish. Right now, too many are being stymied by this UK Government’s policies.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this debate. It follows a debate in the main Chamber that she, the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and the then Member for Sheffield, Hallam secured from the Backbench Business Committee in the previous Parliament.

    The Government’s Social Mobility Commission report, “State of the Nation”, told us the scale of the challenge we face to improve social mobility in Britain. The report told us in no uncertain terms:

    “Britain has a deep social mobility problem…We identify four fundamental barriers that are holding back a whole tranche of low and middle income families and communities in England: an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an imbalanced economy, and an unaffordable housing market.”

    That was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh).

    The report presented the Government with a number of proposals on parenting and early years, schools, post-16 education, jobs and housing, yet there is no evidence that they have yet listened fully to those proposals, let alone made them policy. Will the Minister tell us which of the recommendations his Department will take forward as policy? For example, on early years, the report calls for the Government to:

    “Set a clear objective for early years services that by 2025 every child is school-ready at five and the child development gap has been closed, with a new strategy to increase the availability of high-quality childcare to low-income families.”

    I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), who talked in particular about early years.

    The Minister’s Department has made no indication that it will adopt such plans. In fact, its policies will do quite the opposite. Will the Minister tell us why, instead of directing resources towards those who need it most, his Department will spend around £1 billion pounds a year on a policy of so-called tax-free childcare, which will be of greatest benefit to those who have £10,000 to spend on childcare? Will the Minister tell us which low-income families he knows who have £10,000 to spend, or will this be another ditched policy?

    Will the Minister tell us why the eligibility criteria for the 30 hours of free childcare will actually mean that tens of thousands of low-income families are not eligible for the extra childcare? I am sure he is growing tired of being reminded of promises in the 2015 manifesto that are being broken, but the manifesto pledge was clear, promising that his party would

    “give working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds 30 hours of free childcare a week.”

  • On manifesto pledges, will the hon. Gentleman clarify the situation on student debt? On Sunday, we seemed to get a different message from the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), from the one we heard during the general election?

  • First and foremost, that was not in our manifesto. In this country, we have about £80 billion of student debt stored up, and the Department has already estimated that we will not get a third of that back. We already have the most indebted students on the planet, and at some stage the Government will have to tackle that scenario.

    The Opposition know the immense importance of intervention in the early years to improve the life chances of children in Britain. That is why Labour opened more than 3,000 Sure Start centres, and increased education spending every year that we were in government. In this week’s spirit of new-found bipartisanship, will the Minister follow our example and support the most disadvantaged children, as we did in the previous Labour Government?

    I will briefly address a number of recommendations. First and foremost, I remind the Minister that his own Social Mobility Commission took a clear view on his party’s flagship grammar schools policy going into the election. The commission said that grammar schools would not work. Eventually, however, the electorate sunk the policy, and that was sneaked out in a written statement while the Secretary of State and the Front-Bench team were on the Floor of the House of Commons.

    Before the election, we heard a great deal about a White Paper. Will the Minister confirm whether we will be getting an education White Paper in this Parliament? Will he also confirm whether the £500,000 of funding pledged for new grammar schools will now start being put back into the general schools budget, which is under severe pressure, as we all know?

    We have reached a point at which school budgets are facing real-terms cuts for the first time in 20 years. The National Audit Office has told us that there will be an 8% cut in per pupil education spending over the course of this Parliament. That will not help social mobility and is flagrantly breaking another clear 2015 manifesto commitment that the funding following a child into schools will be protected. I can see that from the Minister’s own education authority of North Yorkshire, including his fine constituency of Scarborough and Whitby. He pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central how many children were in better schools, but £28.5 million is being taken out of schools in North Yorkshire between now and 2021.

    Will the Minister therefore do what the Prime Minister failed to do when asked about that and explain why the Government are breaking another manifesto pledge? Cuts to school budgets will make it impossible to deliver on many of the Social Mobility Commission’s recommendations, shift resources towards areas that most need them, close the attainment gap and support teachers. Teachers continue to leave the profession in record numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central cited statistics that show that a quarter of trained teachers have gone since 2011. I am a former teacher myself—brilliant colleagues in Trafford, where I worked for many years, are leaving the profession because of the real-terms pay cuts over the years, the increasing pressures on school budgets, and class sizes, which are increasing more and more.

    The Government have failed to give even a basic response to the recommendations of their own Social Mobility Commission. I wish that they would do so. I praise my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Mitcham and Morden and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and the hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), for their contributions. The University of Oxford recently published a report about food bank use, in which the Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev. Paul Butler, wrote:

    “This report highlights the need for all of us to refocus our efforts on ensuring that every child is able to reach their full potential regardless of their background.”

    All Members should make that their motto when talking about this issue.

  • I certainly agree with the very last thing that the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) said; it seems to me that the entire House could be united around that comment by the Bishop of Durham. I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for securing the debate; I am pleased to have an early opportunity to discuss this issue. I will leave a couple of minutes for her to sum up at the end, if she would like to.

    Education is fundamental to breaking the link between a person’s background and where they get to in life. It is our primary tool for opening up opportunity and giving people a chance to go as far as their talents and ambitions will take them. The Prime Minister has talked about areas in which we can work together, and I hope that this is one of those. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) was possibly a little churlish; I was really only trying to correct one or two facts that might have helped the hon. Lady to develop her arguments.

    I am grateful to the Social Mobility Commission for setting out its views in its recent “Time for change” report, and I add my personal thanks to Alan Milburn. We welcome the report and recognise its conclusion that life chances are too often determined not by someone’s efforts and talents but by where they come from, who their parents are and what school they attend.

    At the start of this year, the Secretary of State set out three priorities for social mobility. They were tackling geographic disadvantage; investing in long-term capacity in the education system, and ensuring that that system really prepares young people and adults for career success. Before I explain how we are delivering against those priorities, I should emphasise that we are driving opportunity through everything we do. For instance, there are now 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010, including—dare I say it—11,043 more in Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire, where 73,096 children are in good or outstanding schools.

  • Will the Minister give way?

  • I will regret it, but I give way.

  • The Minister mentioned—it was a Minister’s “microphone moment”—1.8 million pupils. May I point out that those exact pupils were identified in 2010 by a Labour Government as being in coasting schools? The resources were put in, and this Government picked the low-hanging fruit. The Government say that more pupils are taught in good schools, but if that is so, why are our programme for international student assessment scores going down in international comparison?

  • I disagree. As some of the primary school results that recently came out show, we are making real progress, certainly in key subjects such as maths and English. I am sure that we all welcome the tremendous impact that that will have on young people’s life chances.

  • I could not resist intervening, as my hon. Friend mentioned North Yorkshire schools. As a North Yorkshire MP, he will be aware that the current funding formula disadvantages pupils in North Yorkshire to the tune of hundreds of pounds relative to similar pupils in other areas around the country. Will he urge the Secretary of State to continue her work to correct that unfairness in the funding formula and find a positive solution for students in his constituency, in my constituency and across the country?

  • My hon. Friend makes a valid point. When I was first elected, I visited a school in one of the most deprived areas of my constituency. The head, who had come from another part of the country, said, “If we were in the middle of Rotherham, Bradford or Hull, we would be getting about 30% more money because of the school funding formula.” People in North Yorkshire certainly look forward to that being addressed.

    As well as increasing school quality, we are strengthening the teaching profession, opening up access to higher education, transforming technical education, delivering 3 million apprenticeship places and investing in careers education. Beyond that progress, the Department is delivering against its social mobility priorities in several specific ways. We are tackling geographic disadvantage by focusing efforts on supporting specific areas that face the greatest challenges and have the fewest opportunities. We are investing £72 million in 12 opportunity areas—social mobility “cold spots” where the Department is working with a range of local partners to break the link between a person’s background and their destination. Those areas face some of the most entrenched challenges, as described in the Social Mobility Commission’s index last year.

    Our approach goes beyond what the Department for Education and central Government can do alone; it extends to local authorities, schools, academy sponsors, local and national businesses, local enterprise partnerships, further education colleges, universities and the voluntary sector. Through that process, we will not just build opportunity now but lay the foundations for future generations. I was in Oldham on Thursday, and I was particularly impressed by the ambition and motivation in that opportunity area. Indeed, I am no stranger to some of the challenges in such areas—one of them is in my constituency. Hon. Members will note that that opportunity area had already been designated when I took on my current role.

    Tackling geographic disadvantage is important, but so is investing in the long-term capacity of the education system. We are absolutely clear that some of the biggest improvements in social mobility can be achieved by deploying high-quality teaching. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Manchester Central said in her opening remarks, we have more teachers in our schools than ever before. There are now more than 457,000 teachers in state-funded schools throughout England, which is 15,500 more than in 2010.

  • I know that I will have a moment to sum up at the end, but just for the record, although we may have more teachers than ever before, there are also many more pupils than ever before. In relative terms, there is a chronic teacher supply issue.

  • Order. Just for the record, there is no guarantee that the hon. Lady will have time at the end. The Minister might wish to give her two minutes to wind up, but it is entirely in his gift.

  • I indicated that I was happy to give the hon. Lady a couple of minutes to get her own back on me if she needs to, Mr Pritchard.

    More than 14,000 former teachers came back to the classroom in 2016, which is the last year we have data for. That is an 8% increase since 2011. Although having more teachers is important for everyone, it is also essential to focus on how we support the learning of the most disadvantaged children if we are to improve social mobility. We continue to provide the pupil premium, which is worth around £2.5 billion this year, but we want to ensure that that funding actually benefits the most disadvantaged, so we are also investing £137 million through the Education Endowment Foundation to expand the evidence base for what works for disadvantaged pupils.

  • I made the point, which was supported by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) from his experience of teaching and of previous initiatives, that we will see proper social mobility only if we understand and tackle the reasons why children arrive at school impoverished. Does the Minister agree that that is one of the fundamental ways we will change the social mobility crisis in this country?

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why the work of the Education Endowment Foundation is so important in determining what early interventions actually work in improving the home learning environment for the many children who, as we have heard, arrive at school without knowing how to hold a knife and fork and, in some cases, not even potty-trained.

    We are focusing on geographic inequality and we are building capacity. Our third priority is to ensure that the system prepares young people and adults for career success and encourages them to aim high. As was mentioned, we are taking steps to improve careers education and guidance for all ages. We are investing more than £70 million this year to support young people and adults to access high-quality careers provision. The Careers & Enterprise Company will ensure that every secondary school in each opportunity area has an enterprise adviser and delivers four encounters with the world of work for every young person. That will focus the whole education community in areas of the country where social mobility is lowest. We have also developed and expanded traineeships for under-25s, which give young people the skills and experience needed to progress to apprenticeships or sustainable employment.

    We are delivering against our commitment to social mobility, but of course more must be done. We know that too often a child’s life chances are determined by where he or she comes from, and we understand that not everybody can access the opportunities available to them. In the early years, we must continue to work to ensure that all children are school-ready by the age of five. In schools, we must ensure that all children benefit from a rigorous academic curriculum and excellent teachers.

    Beyond school, we must ensure that young people have the opportunity to pursue whatever route they choose. We must therefore continue to reform technical education to ensure that people have the skills they need to succeed in the world of work, and we must continue to provide the opportunity for disadvantaged young people to go to top-performing universities.

    I am well aware of the point raised in the debate about UTCs taking children at the age at 14. Some children do not want to leave their friends at secondary school, and sometimes schools actively discourage children from leaving to go a UTC, even if the abilities and aspirations of that child would be best served in a UTC. We have a successful UTC in my constituency, working with local employers who are keen to have people leaving the UTC job-ready. Indeed, many see apprenticeships as the fast route into employment without the debt and problems that a university education can bring.

    Throughout and after education, we must ensure that we equip young people with a high-quality careers advice offer so that every person can make an informed decision on their future. However, despite its pivotal role, education alone cannot transform social mobility. Improving social mobility requires support from all parts of society, including Government, employers and civic society. Success has the potential to benefit society hugely, as we heard in the debate. Work by Boston Consulting Group and the Sutton Trust suggests that greater levels of social mobility could add £14 billion a year to GDP by 2030 and £140 billion by 2050. That is why we are building much wider collaboration.

    On 21 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke at the launch of the social mobility employer index. Employers naturally want the best talent, and the best employers are already taking steps to ensure that they draw their new recruits from a wider pool. That can include engaging young people in schools, introducing recruitment practices that prioritise potential, creating new routes to progression and promotion, and opening up alternative ways in through apprenticeships. The index showcases great work, including from Government and other public sector employers, and we hope that even more firms will sign up next year.

    The Government are making significant progress on social mobility. Let me turn briefly to issues raised during the debate before I leave time for the hon. Member for Manchester Central. I congratulate and welcome my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton). I endorse the comments he made in his contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) made some thoughtful suggestions from experience, and he raised the point I made about UTCs.

    The hon. Member for Manchester Central talked about maintained nurseries, which have a vital role. They are often in some of our most deprived areas—there is one in my constituency that does brilliant work—and because of the qualifications of the staff, it is more expensive to deliver such provision. Only about 1% of children attend that type of school, but in many ways they are the most needy children. She asked about how much extra we provided. Average funding has increased from £5.09 an hour to £5.39 an hour, and supplementary funding of £55 million a year has been made available for those schools until 2019-20. We listened to concerns and have responded.

    The vexed issue of grammar schools was raised during the debate. As the hon. Lady may have noticed, there is no education Bill in the Queen’s speech, so the ban on opening new grammar schools will remain in place. We were encouraged by the number of selective schools that came forward voluntarily to improve their admissions arrangements in response to the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation. We will continue to work with our partners in the sector to ensure that more children from low-income backgrounds can go to grammar schools.

    Points were raised about the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers—which, I have to say, has been virtually eliminated in grammar schools. The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in selective schools is 1.7 percentage points, compared with eight percentage points in all schools. However, I reassure the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) that I am no grammar school fundamentalist myself.

    I am enormously grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester Central for the support she has given to this agenda today. She raised important concerns, and I hope she is happy that those concerns are at the forefront of our work. Social mobility is vital. We know that education plays a fundamental role in that, and we will continue to build on what we are already doing by working closely with employers and other partners. The benefits to be gained by the agenda are significant, and the more society as a whole can support it, the better.

  • I thank the Minister for his wind-up speech and for allowing me a short moment to thank those who have spoken in the debate. There have been some really thoughtful speeches and much agreement across the Chamber. I hope that that spirit can continue in these debates.

    As ever, there were fantastic and important speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who raised some important points. I could also agree with almost the entire speeches of the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). I thank them for their contributions.

    The turnout for the debate shows that there is a huge appetite to get cross-party agreement on these issues. I hope that that continues over the coming months, and that social mobility becomes part of a national mission we can all get behind so that we can really create the equal and fair society we all aspire to.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That this House has considered Government policies on social mobility.