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Social Mobility Strategy

Volume 573: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2014

Improving social mobility—[Hon. Members: “He speaks.”] He does, indeed, speak. Improving social mobility is the principal goal of this Government’s social policy. Progress is being made in a range of areas, and we continue to increase investment. Next year, we will double our offer of early education for two-year-olds from lower-income families, and we will add a further £400 per child to the pupil premium. As announced in the autumn statement, we will soon invest about £10 million extra per year in Jobcentre Plus to help young people access apprenticeships.

Following recent media comment, some of it misinformed, about heritability, will my right hon. Friend confirm the Government’s belief that a huge part of long-standing social immobility in Britain has nothing to do with inherent ability? Will he reaffirm the Government’s core purpose to ensure, through school reform and every other lever available to Government, that everybody in our society can reach their full potential?

May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend? I know that he has done a huge amount of work in this area, and I have read with great interest the reports that he and the all-party group on social mobility have published. He is absolutely right. It is a counsel of pessimism somehow to assume that people’s life chances are blighted at birth. That is why I am so proud that this coalition Government—across the coalition—have dedicated so much time and resources in rectifying the mistakes of the previous Labour Government: providing better child care and more opportunities for two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; providing a £2.5 million pupil premium for children from the most disadvantaged families; expanding apprenticeships on a scale never seen before; and ensuring we have a welfare and tax system with which people can get into work and keep more of the money that they earn.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the social mobility commission that the decision to abolish the education maintenance allowance was badly conceived, and what steps will he take to make up for that error?

The education maintenance allowance, as proven by study after study, was not targeted at the problem it was supposed to address. That is why it has been replaced by a fund, which is now used at the discretion of colleges to cover classroom costs and transport costs for those students at college who otherwise cannot access it. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that we have recently announced—as well as free school meals for all children in the first years of primary school—that we will finally address the inequity of providing free school meals to youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds at college as well.

Given that one of the key determinants of social mobility is the availability of affordable new housing, will the Deputy Prime Minister disassociate himself from words attributed to the Prime Minister over the holiday period about the Price Minister being opposed to the development of new garden cities to help meet that desperate need? Will my right hon. Friend support proposals to build in fresh places to make our economy stronger and our society fairer?

I have been a long-standing advocate of garden cities. If we are to avoid endless infill and endless controversy about developments that sprawl from already established urban or suburban places, we have to create communities where people want to live—not just with affordable housing, but with the amenities of schools and the infrastructure necessary. That is why I believe in garden cities and why, as a Government, we are committed to publishing a prospectus on them, which I very much hope we will do as soon as possible.

Another recommendation of the social mobility commission was a substantial increase in the minimum wage that would bring it up to about £7.45 outside London, which would seriously benefit constituents in Darlington. What is the Deputy Prime Minister going to do about that one?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has asked the Low Pay Commission precisely the question about the merits and the economic knock-on effects of increasing the minimum wage by a higher rate than in the past. That is what the Low Pay Commission is about and why we have asked that question. We have asked that question; it was not asked by the Labour Government.