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Social Mobility Index

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2016

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the social mobility index.

May I ask, Mr Percy, whether we have an hour for this debate from this moment?

Yes. There is an hour for the debate from this moment, with the Opposition Front Benches being allocated five minutes each and the Minister being allocated 10 minutes.

Thank you; that is very helpful.

I am not in the business today of doing my constituency and my city down. Indeed, only last week Norwich was named the happiest place to work in the United Kingdom. In 2014, it was voted the happiest place for children, thanks to a combination of open spaces, public amenities, safe roads and other factors. It is a great city. We from Norwich proudly call it “the fine city”, and you cannot beat Norfolk pride itself. Admiral Lord Nelson told us:

“I am a Norfolk man and I glory in being so.”

In fact, Nelson himself is arguably a fine example of social mobility. Born in rural Norfolk, the son of a vicar, to a family of modest means, he lost his mother when he was young and was only average at school. He took an apprenticeship, had the benefit of leadership mentoring and rose to lead the Royal Navy and be seen as one of the greatest Britons of all time.

Then there is Thomas Paine, radical and revolutionary, who wrote the best-selling work of the 18th century and helped to found America—not bad if anyone expects low aspiration from the son of a Norfolk manufacturer of ladies’ underwear. There is the fact that we invented the office of Prime Minister in Robert Walpole, and then there is the first woman writer in English, Julian of Norwich. From my reading of her stuff, she may well have been mad, but none the less she went and did it. Indeed, the first Act of Parliament held in the parliamentary archives—from 1497, no less—is about Norfolk apprentices.

However much I love my city and my county and want to talk it up, it is wrong to ignore important and serious research when it is presented. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission recently produced its social mobility index, which shows that children growing up in the Norwich City Council area have some of the worst life chances in England. If Nelson said that

“England expects that every man will do his duty”,

Norwich children should now expect us to do our duty and put that right.

The commission’s analysis uses data about educational attainment from the early years through to further education and higher education and potential for people to be not in education, employment or training. It also includes adult prospects such as jobs, housing and pay. In simple terms, the report compares the chances for children across the country from poorer backgrounds in doing well at school, finding a good job and having a decent standard of living.

We also know, separate to the report, that Norwich has more children defined as being in poverty than the national average—in my constituency, around one in five. The commission that produced the report is sponsored by the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office. I am grateful to the Minister for being here today, and I am sure he agrees that there is plenty of work to do in the Government across Departments on this issue. There is also work for us in Parliament on any Bench to do to improve children’s life chances. Responsibility also, quite rightly, lies locally. The report is about the boundaries of Norwich City Council, and I hope that the council takes it as seriously as I do. We need to work together to improve Norwich children’s prospects.

The report also goes deep into educational data, and sadly—for that reason at least—it comes as little surprise, in the sense that the county council’s children’s services department has been improving from inadequacy for some time. A 2015 peer review of the council’s performance towards those not in education, employment or training found the overall impression that there were passionate and committed staff within the authority but no overall coherent political and strategic leadership commitment to the young people of Norfolk.

Let us look at what is in the report. The first half looks at the educational attainment of those from poorer backgrounds in each local area. I think we can all agree that background is one of the most important drivers of a child’s life chances. Under that heading, we start with early years provision. There is clear evidence that children from poorer backgrounds perform worse than their more affluent peers during the early years. For many children, that translates into worse outcomes as they go through their schooling. A Government-commissioned study of 2010 found that by school age, children who arrive in the bottom range of ability tend to stay there. The indicators in the report for that life stage are the proportion of nursery provision in the local area that is rated good or outstanding, and the proportion of five-year-olds eligible for free school meals who achieve a good level of development at the end of the stage.

I have been arguing for some time that we need more childcare provision in north Norwich in particular, where there is a shortage already. That is before parents become rightly keen to take up the 30 hours of provision that we will fund from 2017 and parents of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds make use of their entitlement. Let us ensure that that provision is of the highest quality.

I turn to the school years. There are a number of indicators in the report that determine how children who have free school meals do at primary and secondary school and then at key stages of achievement. The Norwich City Council area, I am sad to say, comes in as the 14th worst in the country in this section. It will be no secret to those who follow the issue that Norfolk has consistently performed below the national average when it comes to all students—not just the poorest—achieving the gold standard of five GCSEs. Indeed, in 2014 Norwich was the worst city in England for GCSE results.

I want every school in Norwich to be rated good or outstanding, and I would like to hear more from the Minister today about the Government’s part in that. I know that the local education authority and local academies are applying themselves to that question, too, for the thousands of students in Norwich who are being let down. I also want local leaders in schools to continue to use pupil premium money in the most imaginative and ambitious ways possible, to help the poorest students break out.

The report goes on to assess the years following school—in other words, a youth measure. As the report says, those years are crucial to social mobility, for two reasons. First, that is likely to be the first time that a young person will make a key choice about their own life and, secondly, what a young person has achieved at that point in their life has a significant impact on their chances as an adult, so it is important to be on the right track during that period.

The Norwich City Council area chips in as the 17th worst in the country in that section. The point about young people being able to go into work and make their own choices is precisely why I have worked so hard with many others locally to help young people into work through the Norwich for Jobs project, which I founded and which has helped to halve our city’s youth unemployment, but there is clearly much more to do. I would like to hear from the Minister how the Earn or Learn taskforce is addressing the problem and what else officials in Jobcentre Plus and other Departments are doing to help young people to make good and ambitious choices that suit them.

The hon. Lady is making a compelling speech. Does she agree that this is about not just getting young people into jobs, but affording young people with potential the ability to start their own business and providing support in that regard?

The hon. Lady has anticipated one of the next things that I was going to say. She is absolutely right, and for the record I will add that this section of the report—I am sure that hon. Members have read it themselves—is also about further and higher education, so we should talk about a range of options and opportunities at this point.

The second half of the report looks at the outcomes achieved by adults in the area, and this is where employment, and the types of job and pay come in.

The hon. Lady is explaining very cogently all the different indicators, but does she not agree that there is a glaring omission in turning away from income as a measure of child poverty? I wonder what she makes of the comment by Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission, that

“without acknowledging the most obvious symptom of poverty, lack of money”,

the Government’s

“agenda…will lack both ambition and credibility.”

Funnily enough, I had anticipated that line of argument. I think that most of it accrues to the Minister to answer, but I will say this. We need to understand child poverty across a number of indicators. That is the argument that I am putting in my contribution. I will go on to make a few more points about what adult prospects consist of. Of course the hon Lady is right to say that money matters, but it is not the only thing that matters, and that is what we should be aware of as we plough our way through this kind of analysis.

Let me recap what is in the second part of the report. It is about people’s prospects of converting good educational attainment into good adulthood outcomes, so it looks at the weekly pay of employees, housing affordability, the proportion of managerial and professional jobs, the proportion of jobs that pay an hourly rate less than the living wage and the proportion of families with children who own their own home.

In my constituency, unemployment and youth unemployment are now lower than the national average, which I welcome, but so are earnings. The gross median wage in Norwich North for full-time work in 2015 was £440—a whole £90 below the UK average of £530. In addition—this is why I welcomed the intervention from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—Norwich North has started up new businesses at about half the rate of the UK. I share her passion to see that number rise.

In the report, the Norwich City Council area is in the bottom 20 for adult social mobility. Locally, we might generally understand that some of the brightest young people leave the area to study because other parts of the country seem to be more exciting and have more opportunities, but there are now so many exciting industries and avenues in Norwich that I could talk all day about why bright people do not need to leave. However, that is not the point. This debate is about the people whose prospects are not so obvious, who began life with less.

Let me pick out one other thing that is noted in the report as an ingredient for a social mobility hotspot, which is about practicalities, not abstract concepts. Norwich does not yet have good enough transport links. The report rightly notes that public transport links and links to the motorway network provide advantages for those from disadvantaged backgrounds in less isolated areas, through access to job opportunities and the attractiveness to education professionals of working in schools in the local area.

Before the debate, I asked a few constituents about their experience. One young man said that he was not surprised by the report because “that is the nature of living in such an area—fewer people, fewer opportunities, fewer jobs. It’s not something that can be changed easily.” It is obvious, then, that transport and the access to more people that it brings can help to create more opportunities. Norwich has only just been connected to the rest of the country by a fully dualled road, thanks to many campaigners’ efforts and this Government getting it done. I lead the campaign for better rail links for our city, which we estimate will bring thousands of jobs.

I want to add a personal view at this point. I went into politics because I was that 16-year-old growing up in Norfolk, frustrated by the lack of opportunities and keen to do my bit to make it better. I had loving and supportive parents and encouraging teachers, but little access to people or places. It could be said that I did not even know what I did not know. As a teenager, I laughed a lot at Harry Enfield—perhaps you did too, Mr Percy. Do you remember that sketch in which women were told to know their limits? Of course, it was funny because it had once been true; it was cutting because it had once been true, but I do not want it ever to be true that a child in Norwich today should see limits.

Well, obviously the catchphrase of one of his key characters was “Loadsamoney!” I think that was the expression. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) raise the issue of income, and I heard the hon. Lady’s answer, which was that many factors go towards child attainment and social mobility. We all understand that, but one of the key ones for many Labour Members is child poverty. The hon. Lady and I both know that in our city of Norwich—

Thank you, Mr Percy. I look forward to continuing that discussion some other time. May I say that I am delighted that the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) has turned up and been able to take part in the debate? It is important that we work together on these issues, and I have every confidence that we will do so.

I had the luck, at that time in my own life, to meet an excellent role model—my then MP, who is now the noble Baroness Shephard and who is in fact the deputy chair of the commission that authored the piece of work we are discussing. As Norfolk women, we share the burning belief that it is not where people come from that counts, but where they are going. That is my credo and, indeed, it is the Conservative credo. That call can be answered only by opportunity, by ensuring that every person has the chance to make of themselves what they want. Work must pay and responsibility must pay off. Conservatives believe fundamentally in people and their freedom, because people are enterprising and can make their own choices best, but they need the opportunity and the means to do so.

I am proud that it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is now setting out action that spans families, the early years, education, treatment and support, an end to discrimination, and increased opportunity. He is right to look out of Downing Street at the hopes and the quiet wishes of mums and dads, rich and poor alike, for their children every minute of the day, and he is right to seek to give every child the chance and the tools that they need. It is particularly important, as he said in a recent speech, to hail work experience and mentorship, as they can often open up a new world of contacts. It is even better when relatable role models provide those chances. Young businesspeople—for instance, those who are under 30—can be massively motivational.

Another constituent told me about the value of work experience, which gave him “exciting things”. People gave him responsibility, looked out for him, checked on his wellbeing and gave him purpose so that he felt valued, and he needed that to make the jump into paid work. Of course, there is also value to businesses in providing such experiences, as there are a lot of talented people in Norwich who just have not had their chance yet.

I completely agree about work experience, but what message are we sending to our young people who are going into work when the new minimum wage premium will not apply to them as under-25s?

There has been an accepted principle that there are age gradations in the minimum wage. That is not new. Leeway is given for the time needed to train someone up to be able to do their job well. For me, that is the principle that drives age gradation.

We need to make more efforts to ensure that all Norwich children—and, indeed, children everywhere in the country—have the knowledge, skills, confidence and network to be able to meet the chances they require and take the chances they want. I am calling on Norwich businesspeople to step up even further and work with every school to provide a network and an opportunity for inspiration that is focused on the poorest children, who need it most.

Many good schemes exist or are coming in shortly, such as enterprise advisers. I urge the Minister to consider how to support those schemes stably over the long term. I want more great teachers to consider coming to Norfolk, because it is a great place to teach, and not to feel that they have to apply elsewhere because of the challenges that exist. I want every administrator who has the privilege to push a pen in the service of Norwich children to ask themselves, “How have I shown my ambition for Norwich children today?” I want the Government to understand that a lack of opportunity is hiding in perhaps surprising parts of our country, not just in traditional inner cities.

Most of all, I would like us to approach this debate without petty party politics. I have already mentioned the hon. Member for Norwich South, and it would be a pleasure to work with him on the issue. In fact, the Labour leader of Norwich City Council was a history teacher when I was at school. That is indeed history, and now we need to work together.

Tackling the issue is not about more welfare and more Government intervention alone, as that can address symptoms rather than causes and make dependency more entrenched. Nor is it only about the free market, although it is my view, with global evidence, that the free market has been by far the best thing ever invented for generating prosperity and improving living standards. There are obvious ways in which businesspeople can do more for the young people in their communities.

Breaking the social cage is not only about welfare or funding formulas. It is about ambition and leadership. It is our duty in Parliament and in local authorities to show ambition and to lead the hard work that is needed to break the cage. It is our duty to acknowledge the challenges of a city such as Norwich, as represented in the report, alongside the things that make the city great, so that it can be great for the poorest who grow up there as well. This is our opportunity to marshal an even more ambitious contribution from the business community, and from many others who can be role models and inspiring mentors to the poorest children in Norwich and help them access knowledge, skills, confidence and a network.

I used a series of Norfolk examples in my opening remarks to show that there are people who got on and did it from modest beginnings, but this is not only about what they did for themselves. It is about what they did for others. The issue is deeply rooted and will not be solved by one person or one solution. We need to understand what the report is telling us, raise our ambitions, show leadership and marshal more opportunities for the poorest children, who need them most.

I am now imposing a five-minute time limit so that we can get everybody in. I ask hon. Members to keep interventions brief.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on initiating this debate on the important social mobility index that was published recently by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

I begin by celebrating the fact that the borough I represent in outer north-east London—the London Borough of Redbridge—was identified as being third in England for social mobility across a range of factors. That is testament to the hard work of the young people, their teachers, the broader educational establishment of local authorities, academies and multi-academy trusts, and families. I represent an increasingly diverse community, and it says something about the character of that community that we have produced such results. However, I am afraid the report that was published a week or so ago painted a picture of England as an increasingly divided nation where life chances are determined by postcode rather than potential. I wholeheartedly agree with the words of Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission, who said:

“It is not ability that is unevenly distributed in our society. It is opportunity.”

It is clear from some of the results in the report that many people are let down from the moment they are born because of the opportunities that are available or not available on their doorstep.

Beneath that grim reading, I want to focus on the remarkable Labour success story that is our great city of London. When I was growing up, London was a byword for failure, and schools were notorious for failing young people and letting down whole communities. I stand here as a product of the remarkable progress that was made—first through the London challenge and, secondly, through the excellence in cities scheme. By 2005, London schools were performing above the national average, and by the time Labour left office in 2010, London had a higher proportion of good and outstanding schools than anywhere else in England.

We have to return to the mantra, “What matters is what works”, which underpinned Labour’s successful approach to the debate about educational opportunities. Looking back on the London challenge, a number of things made the programme particularly successful, including the fact that it brought a sharp focus on the quality of leadership, and on teaching and learning. It really was about standards rather than structures. The programme enabled collaboration between different schools and used data sets to compare schools serving similar populations. Frankly, there was no place to hide for people who would do down the aspirations and abilities of pupils because they happened to serve a particularly deprived community. There was an expectation that any child born in this city should be able to achieve their full potential, and that is why we saw those remarkable results. I am afraid that we seem to have moved further away from that with our increasing focus on structures rather than standards.

The Government should consider a number of things off the back of the report. First, they should consider introducing a coastal challenge and a rural challenge, taking the successful ingredients that underpinned the London challenge and applying them to the social mobility blackspots highlighted by Alan Milburn’s commission.

Secondly, the Government ought to reinvigorate the important but increasingly discredited northern powerhouse agenda by developing an industrial strategy for the north of England that includes a real focus on education and skills. In particular, there should be a focus on ensuring that people have opportunities not only for education and training, but for employment on their doorstep that matches a whole range of talents and abilities. That is difficult in the current climate given the industrial challenges faced, particularly in steel communities.

The third thing we need to do is to look seriously at the amount of money spent on widening participation in higher education. So many of our academically elite universities continue to be far too socially elite, and so many universities that claim to be success stories in widening participation in fact have poor graduate destination data and track records of retention. We need to start asking, amid all the hand-wringing and the emphasis that is placed on schools, whether the £718 million that is likely to be spent towards the end of the decade might be better spent on schools and early years. If we do that, we may be in a far better place when it comes to future reports. Every child—whatever their background and wherever they were born—should have the same opportunity to succeed as far as their abilities and talents will take them.

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) for securing this important debate and for highlighting some of the issues arising in the report. Like her, I am proud of my constituency and of all the people who work so hard to do well by our young people.

I particularly wanted to take part in the debate because Telford has significant areas of disadvantage and underperformance of young people. In fact, my constituency ranks in the bottom decile of the Sutton Trust’s social mobility index, with a ranking of 494 out of 533 constituencies in England. Telford has pockets of significant deprivation, and there is no doubt that that affects the life chances of our young people. Only last week I secured a Westminster Hall debate to consider four of Telford’s secondary schools that were put in special measures following inadequate Ofsted ratings. Those schools have very high numbers of children in receipt of the pupil premium and serve disadvantaged catchment areas.

In that debate, I considered why the schools had failed, so that lessons could be learned for the future. The key reason for failure was the widening achievement gap for the most disadvantaged young people and a culture of low expectations in attendance, behaviour and achievement. There was also a failure in the multi-academy trust’s leadership and governance. The GCSE results in all the schools within the academy chain were below the national floor target, and two thirds of children at some of the schools in the chain were leaving without five good GCSEs including maths and English. Most worrying of all were the stats showing that of the children receiving the pupil premium—the most disadvantaged—only 20% were leaving school with five good GCSEs, including maths and English. I wanted to speak for the 80% who did not have those basic qualifications, about their life chances and the impact on their futures.

Even when disadvantaged young people in my constituency obtain qualifications, they tend not to go to university, and if they do, they tend not to end up in professional occupations. Telford ranks among the lowest areas for non-privileged graduates going on to professional occupations. Like my hon. Friend’s constituency, it is not about a lack of jobs in Telford. The figures for young people not in education, employment or training have completely dropped—they have halved in the past three years—and the number on jobseeker’s allowance has similarly fallen. The difficulty is that the most disadvantaged young people are going into low-income jobs, yet Telford has high-tech, new-economy professional jobs, and our employers say that there is a skills gap. They say that young people leaving school do not have the skills to do the jobs that are on offer. Soft skills are critical in a modern workplace, such as sociability, confidence, negotiation and influencing skills, relationships, communication skills, emotional intelligence and empathy. A good education helps a young person to develop those skills.

Despite Telford’s ranking, there are some welcome signs of improvement, particularly in the early years. We would all agree that that is where inequality starts. Equality of opportunity at the earliest stages is essential to prevent gaps in attainment from opening up. We also have some fantastic primary schools in Telford, such as Old Park Primary School in Malinslee—I thank Jayden, Keeley and Jamie, who came to work in my office before Christmas—and the very special Newdale Primary School, which is about to visit Parliament in a few weeks’ time.

We have thriving academies in disadvantaged areas, and I take up the point made by Opposition Members that poverty affects achievement, which is not always the case. We have good academies with good results for children from the most deprived areas. It is about leadership, good governance, high expectations and instilling a sense of personal responsibility, self-worth and valuing education.

The hon. Lady is making a thoughtful speech. She is talking in particular about areas with the greatest levels of deprivation, yet the Government have removed the key indicator for levels of deprivation, which is income. Does that not render meaningless the analysis that she is trying to present?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to Abraham Darby Academy in my constituency—the school is in a very deprived estate with the highest levels of pupil premium. His point is not correct.

In Telford, we also have organisations such as Juniper Training, which teaches employability skills, and increasing numbers of apprenticeships. I passionately believe that all young people, no matter where they come from and no matter what their background, deserve the life chances that a good education provides. A good education is an open door to future opportunity, and I urge the Minister to do everything possible to narrow educational disadvantage, so that all children in Telford can have the same opportunities and life chances.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this debate on a vital issue. I also congratulate the commission on its work, and particularly its chair, and hopefully my friend, the Government’s social mobility tsar and former new Labour warrior Health Secretary, Alan Milburn. I have long been a great supporter of the Sutton Trust and its terrific work, of which the social mobility index is just one of many examples. I also endorse the conclusions of its report, “Missing Talent.”

My constituency of Mitcham and Morden is relatively average in the UK-wide social mobility index, but in London it sits in the 10 worst-ranked constituencies for social mobility and is part of a pocket of underperforming south London constituencies. The challenges on social mobility remain stark, especially for white working-class students. A significant attainment gap between children receiving free school meals and those who are not eligible exists even at pre-school level. By GCSE age, only 32% of white working-class British students achieve the GCSE benchmark, compared with 44% of mixed-race students, 59% of Bangladeshi students, 42% of black Caribbean students and 47% of Pakistani students—those figures are all for students receiving free school meals. On top of that, prospects have been improving much more slowly for white working-class students over the past 10 years than for almost any other ethnic group. Most importantly, there is a tremendous difference between the performance of white working-class students in inadequate schools and those in outstanding schools, which demonstrates the huge influence that a good school can have.

We know what works in schools. I will compare the Harris Federation academy chain in south London with national averages. Only about 56% of white British students nationwide secure five A* to C-grade GCSEs, but at Harris Academy Greenwich 60% of white British students secured such grades in 2015. Just five years ago the school was in special measures, but now, under the excellent leadership of its strong principal, George McMillan, the school has undertaken an unimaginable transformation. A staggering 73% of white British students at Harris Academy Falconwood secure five A* to C-grade GCSEs. Yet again, the rate of the school’s success is incredible. In 2008, only 17% of its students achieved such grades, but under the leadership of Terrie Askew the school is now judged outstanding by Ofsted. Those schools have demonstrated consistent relentlessness in both discipline and high achievement. They promote zero tolerance of bullying; they pick up children directly from their home if they have a habit of truanting; and they provide breakfast clubs and after-school network clubs, which serve nutritious food.

Members also have a responsibility to do all they can, which is why I set up my own work experience scheme in Mitcham and Morden to link young, unemployed constituents with local businesses and organisations to get the experience they need to access a full-time job. I am proud that since 2011, more than 350 participants in our scheme have found full-time employment, and I am planning my own mentoring scheme in the constituency to match children and young people with successful adults. Experts, including Robert Putnam, have argued that such social capital, defined as a young person having an older role model to look up to who is not their parent, is key to ensuring their future prosperity.

As “Missing Talent” argues, we urgently need to incentivise better use of the pupil premium to ensure that disadvantaged pupils receive the focused support they need. As well as greater support for highly able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, I hope to see more support for average students, because that is precisely what most of us are. I want students who get average GCSE grades to do better and have access to better-paid apprenticeships and better alternatives to university if they feel that university is not for them. Social mobility is not only about the children at the top doing well; it is about all children being able to aspire, and to surpass their own and everybody else’s expectations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this debate. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility.

Improving social mobility is arguably one of the biggest and most complicated challenges of our times. This country is too unequal, too closed and too divided. It is a country where, far too often, where a person is born and who they are born to, define what their life chances will be. The income gap between the richest and poorest in society continues to widen, and the UK stands alongside the United States in having the lowest social mobility among advanced nations.

As they progress through life, young people from the most disadvantaged areas are nearly 10 times less likely than those from the most advantaged to take up a place at a top university. Our professions are disproportionately populated with people who studied at Oxbridge or in private education; the all-party group will shortly launch an inquiry into access to the professions. Tackling such issues is not just a moral imperative but an economic one.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said, the commission’s social mobility index is not a new concept, as it was pioneered by the Sutton Trust last year through its mobility map. However, it is instructive to look at both studies, as their findings were similar: that the issue is far more complex than the conventional wisdom of looking simply at rich areas versus poor areas, or urban versus rural.

Although the affluence of an area and the life chances of the young people who live there are undoubtedly linked, we now know that social mobility issues affect not only the poorest areas in our country but some of the wealthiest. In many cases, affluent areas are not doing as well by their disadvantaged children as places that are much more deprived. We also know that children living in similar areas, sometimes just a few miles apart, can have markedly different life chances.

Although the commission’s report considers local authorities, the Sutton Trust mobility map allows us to drill down into individual constituencies, where we can find significant differences within a local authority area. For example, in my council area of Cheshire West, City of Chester is shown to have a significantly higher level of social mobility than my constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston, although they are both in the same local authority area and only a few miles apart. Such differences are simply not apparent in the commission’s index. In a local authority area with a population of more than 330,000, I suggest that pockets where social mobility is at its worst can be easily overlooked. Indeed, although a constituency basis is a much more useful indicator than a local authority one, I would go further: it ought to be done at a ward or super output area level.

Maybe we will get to that point in future, but we do not need that level of detail to conclude what is clear from both indexes: London and its commuter belt are pulling away from the rest of the country. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in those areas are far more likely than others in the rest of the country to achieve good outcomes in school. What is so valuable about the social mobility index and the mobility map is that at least we can now begin to map and question why such variations exist. Such is the variety of potential factors influencing outcomes that establishing the most effective way to improve social mobility can at times be a little like trying to nail blancmange to a wall, but there are some fundamentals with which we can start.

For example, we know that the effects of good teaching are especially significant for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In one year with very effective teachers, a child can gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning, so we need to consider better policies to incentivise teachers to work in disadvantaged areas. We also need to give local authorities across the country the resources and powers to replicate what was done with the London challenge, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) discussed eloquently earlier. There is a huge amount of good practice out there. In London, we have seen that, through concerted effort by a range of partners, the gap between the most advantaged and the most disadvantaged pupils can be reduced.

I hope that this debate signals a genuine intention across all political parties to improve social mobility. I sense that it is there, but all good intentions need to be matched with a little self-awareness that some Government policies do not help social mobility but in fact hinder it. I have grave concerns about some of the recent changes to student finance and the proposals that will shortly be consulted on for changes to the nurse bursary system, which the shadow Minister will undoubtedly address in his comments.

My hon. Friend is giving an excellent speech. I also have concerns about housing. When I was growing up, I always had the security of the council flat where I lived, whereas many families in similar situations whom I represent live on the other side of London and commute in.

I say to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) that I wanted to call the Front-Bench speakers at this point. Can he please respond to the intervention and then conclude?

I am happy to do so, Mr Percy. We could certainly spend a lot of time discussing the more divisive aspects of Government policy, but I will conclude. Giving everyone opportunity in life is a core part of why I am involved in politics. To me, it is about fairness, and it should be a basic ingredient in any progressive society. Let us ensure that every new policy and initiative is met with the same question from all parties: “Will this help improve social mobility?”

I remind the SNP spokesman and the shadow Minister that they have five minutes each to respond, and that they should try to stick to that.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Percy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing it, and on her positive contribution in admirably defending and promoting her constituency in light of the report. She said in her speech that she expects us all to do our duty to those children suffering poorer life chances. Absolutely; I hope that she will communicate that directly to this Minister, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

It is interesting that the hon. Member for Norwich North mentioned childcare provision. I absolutely agree. It should be a key area for improving children’s life chances, and we must do more on that front. I also support her comments on improving business links with schools in areas of deprivation to improve skills and access to the employment market. I congratulate her on her speech, and I pay tribute to the contributions made by the hon. Members for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), for Telford (Lucy Allan) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), and by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group. They certainly made for a good debate.

The social mobility index, released in January, shows the massive differences between different parts of England and the chances that poorer children who live there have of doing well in life. Although the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission covers Scotland, the index is for England only. Key findings include the fact that London and its surrounding areas are pulling away from the rest of the country. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who live in those areas are far more likely to achieve better outcomes in school and have more opportunities to do well as adults than those in the rest of England. In addition, coastal areas and industrial towns are becoming social mobility cold spots. Many such areas perform badly on both educational measures and adulthood outcomes, giving young people from less advantaged backgrounds limited opportunities to get on.

As the study related purely to England, we cannot compare figures for Scotland. The best comparison that can be made with Scotland involves educational attainment, and what is going on in Scotland may provide examples to be followed elsewhere. The Scottish National party and the SNP Scottish Government recognise that education is the best avenue for social mobility. The SNP is absolutely committed to closing the gap in educational achievement between children from wealthy and low-income backgrounds. The Attainment Scotland fund supports more than 300 primary schools that collectively serve more than 54,000 primary-aged children living in the most deprived 20% of areas in Scotland. That represents 64% of the total number of primary-aged children living in Scottish index of multiple deprivation areas 1 and 2.

The first seven councils to benefit from the £100 million attainment fund include Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire and North Lanarkshire, which covers my constituency. They have been allocated £11.7 million in 2015-16 to raise attainment in schools in areas of greatest deprivation. An additional 57 schools based in areas of concentrated local need across a further 14 local authorities will also benefit from £2.5 million from the attainment fund.

There is more to do, but the attainment gap is narrowing in Scotland. There have been annual increases in the proportion of school leavers reaching at least SCQF level 5—from 73.2% in 2007-08 to 84.4% in 2013-14—and the gap between the most deprived 20% and the least deprived 20% of pupils achieving that level has decreased from 36 percentage points in 2007-08 to 22 points in 2013-14.

As time is limited, I will try to come to a conclusion. A key figure for me is that UCAS figures for this year show that since 2006 there has been a 50% increase in university applications from 18-year-olds in the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland. That is clear evidence that access to free higher and further education is working in Scotland, and that getting on has to be about the ability to learn and not the ability to pay.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this debate. I thought she spoke extremely well, particularly about the importance of the early years.

There were some great contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) spoke very well about the situation in London. The quote that he used about life chances being decided by postcode rather than potential is an important one.

The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) spoke very well about her constituency. I am pleased to hear a Conservative Back-Bench contribution today, because the previous two times that I have been a shadow Minister responding to child poverty debates there has not been a Tory Back Bencher to make a contribution. I am pleased that she felt able to come along and do that today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke very well about the influence and importance of good schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) spoke with great authority in his role as the chair of the all-party group on social mobility.

Prior to coming to this House, I was involved for many years—well over 10—in Oxford admissions and examining work that could be done to address the problem of how we could attract applicants from a wider range of backgrounds. I was very proud to play a part in the Oxbridge ambassador for Wales project, which was run by my predecessor as the MP for Torfaen, Paul Murphy, who is now Lord Murphy of Torfaen in the other place. The project aimed to increase the diversity of Oxbridge applicants.

I was very sorry to see the Prime Minister’s attack in recent weeks on diversity at Oxford and Cambridge. Although I absolutely agree that there has to be greater diversity, the first thing that concerned me about the Prime Minister’s comments was the lack of acknowledgment of work that has already been done. Let me just give an example. In the period from 2005 to 2010, the number of applications to Russell Group universities rose far more quickly from students on free school meals than from students who were not. That is evidence of social mobility during those years.

The second thing that worried me was that the Prime Minister sought to avoid blame for the consequences of his own policies and to push it away somewhere else. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston spoke, for example, about the abolition of nursing bursaries. However, there is a deeper point here. Let us remember that for all the talk of worklessness, 1.5 million children who are in poverty are in working households. That is what the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission says.

If we accept income as a measure of child poverty, which all Labour Members do, some issues must be extremely worrying, such as low pay, zero-hours contracts and the cuts to the universal credit work allowance that will be happening from this spring onwards, all of which affect people in work.

That brings me on to the central issue of how we measure child poverty, because measuring it is absolutely key. Let me just quote the Minister for Employment herself on 26 January 2016, and I look forward hearing her words endorsed by the Minister who is here today:

“Income is a significant part of this issue, but there are many other causes as well.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 72WH.]

If income is a significant part of this issue, why are the Government refusing to measure it? What possible rational explanation is there for them not doing so?

One of the issues that the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) did not mention is that a quarter of all the children in Norwich are from low-income families. She neglected to mention that.

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely powerful point and I say to the Minister who is here today, “Be careful about this issue of defining child poverty.” The Centre for Social Justice—with which, of course, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is uniquely associated because he founded it—says:

“Growing up in a single-parent household could count as a form of ‘poverty’”.

That is an absolutely unbelievable comment and I really hope that the Minister will take the chance today to distance himself entirely from it, and to criticise it as stigmatising lone parents.

I just wondered whether my hon. Friend was aware of Fiona Weir from Gingerbread, who says:

“Further stigmatising single parent families will do nothing to tackle child poverty. Family breakdown doesn’t cause child poverty. It is unaffordable childcare, low levels of maternal employment and poor wages—”

I entirely agree with that point and I will conclude my remarks, Mr Percy. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said just before Christmas that

“the existing child poverty targets…will be missed by a country mile.”

I sincerely hope that the Government are not simply trying to redefine child poverty to hide their own failure.

Mr Percy. I am very proud to serve under your chairmanship, particularly because of your genuine interest in this topic, both as a former teacher at Kingswood High School in Bransholme and even now when, as a busy constituency MP, you find time to be a chair of governors at a local school, making a real difference in your community.

This debate is a real tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is continuing her tireless work in her constituency, including working at the local jobcentre, and vice-chairing the all-party group on youth unemployment. Time and again, I have been impressed by her hands-on approach, which is making a real difference in her community. That is a real sign of local leadership and my hon. Friend is a real credit to Norwich North.

Social mobility is a topic that I am particularly interested in. I know that it covers many different Departments, particularly the Department for Education. I went to a school that was bottom of the league tables; my father died at an early age; and all too often people seemed to think that someone in that position would have no opportunity or aspiration. That was my calling to enter Parliament, because I believe that everybody deserves a chance in life, regardless of background.

The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) both showed a real understanding of the opportunities and challenges. They both justified their growing reputations in this House and showed that they really understand the importance of creating opportunities, both within their constituencies and much more widely.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke and it was great to hear the namechecks for George McMillan and Terrie Askew for what they have done in terms of transformation. Again, it shows that under any circumstances real changes can be made—and good luck with the work experience scheme.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) provided a really good analysis of the sorts of challenges that exist, and I wish him good luck with his ongoing work with the all-party group.

I turn to the debate now. There are four fundamental components to the Government action on social mobility, so I will try to say something on each in the time I have. Turning to education first, we are determined to deliver educational excellence everywhere, so that every child—regardless of their background—reaches their potential.

In early years education, we are supporting parents of young children and investing in childcare at record levels. By 2019-20, we will be spending more than £6 billion on early years and childcare. I have seen in my own constituency what a difference this approach can make. In one of the schools, Seven Fields, on average the children would arrive one and a half years behind the national average, but through the leadership of the teachers and the headteacher, and working with the parents, the extra funding—

I will be tough on time, but I may give way at the end of my speech.

In that school, the teachers were able to get those children back up to the national average. That is a real transformation, which had to start in early years education as well as in the traditional school years.

We have a clear focus on quality and our early years education system is underpinned by the early years foundation stage statutory framework. The EYFS profile data results for 2014-15 already show a 14.6 percentage point increase in the proportion of children reaching a “good level of development” by age five in the past two years.

In schools, 1.4 million more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools than in 2010, which is much welcomed by parents. We are introducing new measures to transform failing and coasting schools, including creating a national teaching service and sending some of our best teachers to the areas that need them most. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North will encourage them to head to Norwich with their great skills. We have also introduced the pupil premium, which is worth £2.5 billion in 2015-16; in the case of Norwich North, that is £3.7 million of additional spending.

Also, £137 million has been invested in the Education Endowment Foundation to research and share best practice with disadvantaged pupils. There have been examples of really good best practice, and we should rightly do all we can to share that information as far as we can.

On wider education, we have opened 39 university technical colleges and a further 20 are in development. There is an UTC in Swindon, so I have seen what a real transformation UTCs can achieve with young people, transforming them into young adults with real skills.

The Prime Minister has committed to ambitious goals, whereby we will double the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by 2020. We recently announced that universities will be required to publish admissions and retention data by gender, ethnic background and socio-economic class, and in 2016-17 universities expect to spend £745 million on measures to support the success of disadvantaged students. I fully support the Prime Minister’s determination to extend the national citizens scheme to all young people. There will be a complete transformation in young people of all backgrounds who take advantage of that scheme.

On the economy, it is key to a strong labour market that we have a strong economy, and the Government’s long-term economic plan is delivering that. Since 2010, there have been more than 2.3 million more jobs in every region and country of the UK, wages have been rising—for 15 months in a row now—and inflation of about 3% compared with 0% is making a big difference. That growth has been dominated by full-time and permanent jobs. Someone mentioned zero-hours contracts. They make up only about 2%, which is exactly what the percentage was in the heyday of the last new Labour Government.

Nearly two-thirds of the growth in private employment has been outside of London and the south-east, with the east of England, Scotland, the north-west, the east midlands, the south-west and the south-east all having higher employment rates than London. We have the introduction of the national living wage coming forward, and we continue to increase the personal tax allowance. We all recognise that the current system of welfare is too complex. There is broad support for the introduction of universal credit, which will be a much simpler system and will improve work incentives and provide named coaches to support people. We are also committing to the creation of 3 million more apprenticeships.

On housing, we have increased the provision of affordable housing and are doubling our investment, from 2018-19, to £8 billion to deliver more than 400,000 new affordable housing starts. We are creating 200,000 starter homes to be sold to young first-time buyers at a 20% discount compared to market value, and delivering 135,000 Help to Buy shared-ownership homes. A quarter of a million people have already signed up for the Help to Buy ISAs. We are building 10,000 homes that will allow tenants to save for a deposit while they rent, and at least 8,000 specialist homes for older people and people with disabilities. We will extend the right to buy to housing association tenants, and extend Help to Buy by introducing an equity loan scheme by 2021.

On improving children’s life chances, as a Government we have set out an agenda of action. We are determined to do more to improve the life chances of all children. We are bringing forward proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that will drive action that will make the biggest difference to children’s lives, both now and in the future. We are introducing new reporting duties on worklessness and educational attainment in England, publishing a life chances strategy in the spring to set out a comprehensive plan to fight disadvantage and extend opportunity, covering areas such as family breakdown and problem debt, and reforming the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to strengthen and expand its social mobility remit. The reformed commission will ensure independent scrutiny of progress to improve social mobility in the UK.

Will the Minister explain how cuts to the work allowance of universal credit from this spring incentivise work and assist with child poverty?

We have had a number of debates on that point and even the Institute for Fiscal Studies acknowledges that such an analysis is a static one. What will need to be considered over time is the continued jobs growth and wage rises, the introduction of the national living wage and all the different opportunities that will come in. The criticism of the tax credit proposals was that the changes would not have had time to filter through. With universal credit, there will be a big difference.

As I said, for the first time ever, people who have been out of work and are going into work again will no longer just be waved off and wished all the best; they will have a named coach to support them, giving them advice and support with additional training, and with pushing for extra hours and getting promotion. Many of us had families who pushed us—“Go and seize the opportunities that are given”—but that is not the case for everyone, and that is the thrust of the debate. For the first time ever, we will extend the provision to people entering work and ensure that they can take advantage of it.

In conclusion, the Government are absolutely committed to improving social mobility and life chances. That is central to our Government’s agenda, and we will continue to extend opportunity for all. It is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North that she has once again highlighted an important area for the Government’s focus. There have been many examples of good and best practice, and the Government are keen to share and push them, so that everyone has an opportunity to succeed in life.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the social mobility index.

Sitting adjourned.