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Social Mobility

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 14 October 2014

No one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by the circumstances of their birth. What ought to count is how hard people work and the skills and talents they possess. Of course, the UK is still a long way from achieving that ideal. Income and social class background have a significant and lasting impact on a child’s future life chances. That is why our 2011 strategy, “Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers”, established improving social mobility as the principal goal of the Government’s social mobility policy. We have committed to reporting regularly on a set of key indicators and have created a new social mobility and child poverty commission. I chair a group of key Ministers to oversee delivery of the strategy.

The Deputy Prime Minister will know that a child’s life chances are determined in the first few months and years of their life. We have previously discussed getting the right kind of quality into child care, but does he agree that supporting families to encourage children with their language, their bonding and their security is also critical? What, therefore, does he make of the Government’s record? There are 628 fewer Sure Start centres, despite the huge increase in the birth rate over the same period.

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware that the number of families using children’s centres has actually gone up very significantly. Support to families is, of course, provided in lots of different ways. That is why we have the pupil premium—in particular, the early years pupil premium—channelling money precisely to the early years in a child’s education in the way she describes. That is something that this Government have done; it did not happen under her Government. It is why, for the first time, all young children in the first three years of primary school are getting a free, healthy hot meal at lunch time. It is why we have expanded the amount of free child care and pre-school support available to all three and four-year olds, and to two-year-olds from the 40% of most disadvantaged families. These are very big steps, all of which are devoted precisely to the objective she describes, which is helping children when they are young.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that social mobility is often impeded in unhappy relationships? This is typified when one of the partners starts tearing a strip off his partner in public, often motivated by declining self-worth and familial support. Is not divorce the better option?

I think the problem is when one party feels bitter from the first day they are caught in a relationship they feel they should not have entered into in the first place. I know the hon. Gentleman wants to call time on this political relationship and instead enter into a sort of lock-in with Nigel Farage, but I am not sure that that relationship will make him any happier.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the threatened closure of every youth centre in Trafford as a result of public spending cuts can only put social mobility in the borough at risk?

I do not know why the council took those decisions. Other councils have not had to take such dramatic decisions and have managed their finances more effectively. As I said in my previous answer, this Government have been responsible for a significant reallocation of money to help children in the crucial early years. Through the Youth Contract and other initiatives we now see youth unemployment lower today than it was when this Government first came into office.

What are the Government doing to increase the number of pre-school children who are reading books and engaging in reading? We know that that has a big impact on social mobility, particularly for those in D and E and poor areas where they do not have access to books. Reading is vital and I do not think we are doing enough.

I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman: the huge and positive effect of getting children to enjoy and relish reading is well demonstrated. In fact, a new campaign has recently been launched, with the support of The Sun and a number of campaign groups, to get children reading more. I was at a primary school just yesterday to play my bit in advertising the campaign. The more that hon. Members from both sides of the House can get involved the better, because it will mean more children reading at an earlier age.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister consider that his own deprived background and upbringing is a good example of social mobility?

That is a characteristically sour question. I have never sought to hold myself up as some paragon of social mobility. What I care about, and what I suspect everybody in this House cares about, wherever they come from, is that we live in a country where people can live out their dreams regardless of the circumstances of their birth.