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Social Mobility

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 19 November 2013

Improving social mobility is the principal long-term goal of this Government’s social policy. I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about measures to improve social mobility, such as the offer of early education for two-year-olds from lower-income families, the pupil premium and the youth contract.

I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister. Does he agree, though, that the very best way to achieve social mobility is through effective early-years intervention to support the emotional resilience of families?

I strongly agree that the more we can do to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds very early on in their lives, before they even go to primary school, the more dramatic the difference—all the evidence shows this—to their subsequent ability to do well at school and go to college, university or elsewhere and get a good job. That is one of the reasons why we have increased the overall funds for early intervention from £2.3 billion to £2.5 billion, and why we have provided a new entitlement—it has never existed before—of 15 hours’ pre-school support for two-year-olds from the poorest 20% of families in the country. We will double that next year. We will also, of course, provide tax-free child care to all working families as of 2015.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister consider the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and himself to be good examples of social mobility?

I do not think that the whole political class is a particularly good example of social mobility. We also need to make sure that doors are opened in many other sectors, whether the media or the law, in order to give opportunities to young people who otherwise would not have them. That is why I am delighted that 150 businesses from a range of sectors have signed up to a new business compact which I have thrashed out with them and which will ensure that young people will be able to have meritocratic access to internships in all those businesses that were not available to them before.

One of the most effective ways of tackling social mobility is through high-quality teaching in our schools. Will the Deputy Prime Minister discuss with his colleagues in the Department for Education how the best teachers can be encouraged into schools facing the most challenging circumstances?

I certainly agree that great teachers who inspire pupils and are committed to their vocation are crucial in promoting a good education system and, therefore, social mobility. We have a number of programmes. I would single out Teach First as an outstanding programme that has attracted some of the brightest and the best into teaching, which is something the whole Government actively support.

Sir John Major recently said that he finds it “truly shocking” that in every single sphere of influence in Britain

“the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class”.

In 1979, just 3% of MPs had a political background, such as special adviser. At the last election, the figure was 25% of this House. What is the Deputy Prime Minister doing to change that?

I think we all need to ask ourselves searching questions about how, in our own political parties and parliamentary offices, we can make sure that we give people greater opportunity. One of the huge changes in recent years—I know the right hon. Lady has been very active on this, and I pay tribute to her for that—is the way in which internships, which were once an informal arrangement and all about who rather than what someone knew, are becoming an increasingly important, almost semi-formal step towards full-time work and are being provided on a more meritocratic basis. We need to do that here in Parliament, just as much as many other workplaces need to do it up and down the country.