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Social Mobility

Volume 639: debated on Monday 23 April 2018

The armed forces aim to attract talent from the widest possible base from across the UK. The skills, education, training and experience, as well as enhanced reverence for our country, enable recruits to progress as far as their aptitude will take them, regardless of their socio-economic background, educational status or ethnicity.

We know that in many of our cities at the moment young people feel trapped and that their only life choice is which gang to join. Will my right hon. Friend explain what the armed forces will do to help reach into those communities and help those young people transform their life chances?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I recall that as a platoon commander I got to know my soldiers very well and they came from a variety of backgrounds, some very tough. They were forever grateful for the sense of purpose and the second chance—the new direction—that the armed forces provide. Whether someone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth or has a penchant for pinching them, they will be treated with the same discourteous irreverence by the sergeant major when they arrive on the parade square and will be knocked into something of which both the armed forces and the nation can be proud.

When a young person leaves school, perhaps in a deprived area, and joins the armed forces and makes a success of that career, what encouragement is given to them to go back to that school and say, “I was at this school—I know where you smoke the fags behind the bike sheds—and you too can make a success of a career like mine”?

I am pleased the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue. We are looking at ways of encouraging and rewarding those who go back to their peer groups to say, “I have benefited from the armed forces.” Let us not forget that those who sign up to wear the uniform are not only of benefit and service to the armed forces themselves; they take away with them the transitional skills of leadership, determination, grit, tenacity and teamwork that can be transferred into society as a whole. Everybody benefits from a life in the armed forces.

I must call the hon. Gentleman, because I think he comes from the wing of the Conservative party that went to state school, pays mortgages and buys its own furniture.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; we are definitely in the EPNS family.

I welcome everything that my right hon. Friend has said from the Dispatch Box. Following up on what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) said, rather than just using those who have been in the military, what opportunities are there to use active champions who are currently serving in our armed forces to take that message of social mobility into schools and colleges in areas that really need to hear it and would benefit from hearing it?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are looking to improve recruitment and retention, and one aspect of that is the cadetship programme, which is growing every year. The programme invites those who already have a connection in the armed forces to go back to tell the communities where they started how they have benefited from their service in uniform.