Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of inequality on social mobility in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is a privilege to have secured this debate today on inequality and social mobility.
The American and British dream, that if you work hard and do the right thing, you prosper and do better economically than your parents, no longer applies. Indeed, the funeral rites for that were announced this week by President Obama in his State of the Union address when he said:
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by—let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all”.
That picture is almost identical to the situation that exists in the United Kingdom, where we have seen a rapid increase in inequality in the past few decades and we are now at a lowly 28th out of 34 in the OECD equality league table. The IMF, the World Economic Forum at Davos and the Economist put inequality as one of the top global risks. In our country, Alan Milburn, the social mobility czar, and ex-Prime Minister John Major have expressed similar sentiments. They say that one of the causes of deepening inequality and static social mobility is the entrenched elitism in the United Kingdom.
That trend is most marked at the top of the pay scale. The income share of the top 1% doubled from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005. In 1997, the income of the top 0.1% of earners was 61 times the average of those in the bottom 90% of earners; by 2007, that multiple had climbed to 95 times and is still rising.
Why should we be concerned by that inequality? Frankly, because the disparity between rich and poor is leading to more alienation that, allied with high youth unemployment and growing inequality, harbours serious economic, social and political divisions. If not tackled, it will worsen.
Is growth the answer? We have seen growth without gain. The social contract in society is broken. It went along the lines that everyone got a share of the pie—some got a bigger share, some got a smaller share—but now some are getting no share of the pie at all.
The conventional political response has been framed simply as securing a steady recovery. In the past, we could assume that living standards always increased when the economy grew, but that was contingent on social and economic characteristics of the economy which no longer prevail. Change has taken place imperceptibly under our very feet and we can therefore no longer assume that a return to growth will mean gain for everyone. One of the most depressing statistics on social mobility came out of the OECD in a document about what was termed inter-generational social mobility. It demonstrated in the UK the extent to which a son's earnings are likely to reflect those of the father. Britain was top of the poll in that. So the message is that, in Britain, if you have rich parents your prosperity is more guaranteed; if you have poor parents, your future prosperity is stunted. That is why we need to look at that problem again.
The high levels of income inequality definitely generate political and social problems. In the book, What Money Can't Buy, by Michael Sandel, which I recommend to everyone, he states that,
“at a time of rising inequality, the marketisation of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools”.
The big question for society is: how do we learn to negotiate, abide by our differences and come to care for the common good? At a recent talk given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, he said that when he and his wife first came to London after spending many years in the north, it was a tale of two of cities, as Charles Dickens would have said. These are issues to which we must attend. As Parliamentarians the question is: do the present policies aid or detract from the common good? In this Palace, 35% of our MPs were privately educated in a country where 7% of the population have been privately educated. Ten per cent of our MPs were educated at just 13 schools, 12 of which were private. So, 60 of the nation’s Parliamentarians come from a microcosm of the educational establishment in our country. If we have 4,500 schools and 10% come from 13 schools, it shows the problem that has been built up.
I do not want to enter into class issues, although Warren Buffett got it right when he said amusingly class warfare had been going on for 20 years and that his class had won. It certainly won in the economic stakes. Given the shocking lack of social mobility, how do we, in the words of Alan Milburn, the social mobility tsar, break the glass ceiling? More and more people are coming out against that, whether in the law, medicine, politics or journalism. Alan Milburn said that it had all the hallmarks of social engineering.
Change can come only from the highest level of government, and only if the Prime Minister takes personal charge of the inequality and social mobility agenda. No. 10 has to be the driver in this to break the conventional approach to such problems. Departments should have to report to the Prime Minister’s Office on what new mindset and initiatives they are adopting to ensure that policies achieve a fairer society with equal opportunities for all, irrespective of class, income or gender. We need a new long-term agenda. We should abandon the political horizon of four or five years, equivalent to a Parliament.
I chaired for the Fabian Society a very dense document, which I recommend for bed-time reading as I am sure that noble Lords would get there quickly. The 2030 Vision report recognised that not all public money was spent well. As a result, we recommended that all spending decisions should include a 10-year test on what they would achieve, and a 10-year cost. By doing so, the long-term impacts would be considered, including the effects on society and on the public agencies. The problems are not confined to the United Kingdom; they are mirrored elsewhere and started decades ago. International co-operation is a must if we have to tackle this properly.
Talking of Davos, Klaus Schwab, who established it said that,
“systems that propagate inequality, or that seem unable to stem its rise, contain the seeds of their own destruction”.
To avoid such scenarios and create pathways to increase social mobility will require not only new policies but a new mindset.
Economic prosperity and social stability are two sides of the same coin. Only if they move forward in concert can we achieve a better, fairer and more prosperous society. As the ex-American President said, “It’s the economy, stupid”. I suggest that it is also the social, stupid.
My Lords, a fair society is an open society, one in which every individual is free to succeed. The lack of social mobility is damaging to individuals and leaves countries’ economic potential unfulfilled. That is why improving social mobility is the principal goal of Her Majesty’s Government’s social policy.
Her Majesty’s Government have recognised that things can be done to aid the development of social mobility. Some examples are the creation of the business compact to encourage fair access to job opportunities; the increase in the pupil premium; access to early years education for two year-olds; the youth contract; and the increase in the availability of apprenticeships. Evidence shows that improvements are being made in some areas but there is still more that can be done.
In May 2012 the Social Mobility APPG published a report, Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, who is in her place, and the members of the APPG for their work in this area. The report identified that character and resilience are the missing link in mobility,
“a force at play throughout the lifecycle but too often overlooked in favour of more tangible, easier-to- measure factors”.
So what can be defined as character and resilience? What characteristics does an individual possess that make for resilience? The list is long: tenacity and perseverance; the ability to overcome obstacles; self-esteem; self-discipline; aspiration and expectation; understanding the relationship between effort and reward; and staying power and self-reliance.
The golden age of social mobility is often said to have been between the post-war years and the 1970s. I am sure that many of us here today are the product of parents and ancestors who demonstrated character and resilience in their lives. My mother was adopted into a family where the sons, much older than my mother, who had survived the First World War returned to what seemed a very bleak future. They organised a barrow and started a business selling groceries on the streets of Bradford. The business developed and my grandmother became the owner, with her sons, of a successful grocery and delicatessen business, no longer working from a wheelbarrow. The family recognised the value of education, which in those days was not freely available, and paid for my mother to attend a good school. Their success was down to drive and resilience.
My father lost his father when he was very young. There was no widow’s pension in those days to support his mother and his partially sighted brother. My father was bright and was offered a place at the grammar school. However, his mother, who worked as a housekeeper to provide a home for her family, could not afford to pay the fees so my father could not accept the place. He had to leave school at 14 and work long hours, studying for a degree at night. He became an apprentice to Mr Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame and developed a successful career as a professional engineer.
I know that there are many who fight against the odds today and succeed in spite of all that life throws at them. I fully approve of the care that the welfare state provides today in all its forms, but I sometimes wonder how much resilience we have lost along the way. Governments have a role in ensuring that barriers to mobility are removed and that equality is truly achievable. The key determinant is, however, the attitude of the individual—the fire in the belly. The desire to succeed comes from within and is not something that government and state can create.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I shall take up two points that he made that are important to the character of this debate. He talked about the inequalities that have grown over the past few decades. It is important that we see that this has been under the stewardship of both parties—indeed, all three parties. He also made the point that not all public money has been well spent. That also colours the debate.
I probably belong to what I would describe as the guilty generation. My father never earned more than £1,000 a year in the whole of his working life. I was born on an ICI estate, but I went to grammar school on a Lancashire county scholarship and to university on a similar scholarship with a grant. I was never quite aware of how universities were funded in those days, but it certainly meant that my social mobility was on the back of a very generous state. In those days, of course, the early 1960s, I represented only 6% of my generation. I have never accepted that more means worse as far as university education is concerned, and have welcomed the expansion over recent years.
If I look back at the real advantages that I had, I see that I had aspirational parents; I had a home with books; I had a secure family background; and I lived in a stable community—not a particularly wealthy community, but one with values. I want to share two things that stick in my mind from my experience over the past few years as a Minister. One was a visit to a school in Leicester. I was walking around and talking to the deputy headmaster. I asked him, “Any problems here?” and he said, “Yes, that big estate over there is mainly white working class. In that estate now, we have the third generation of welfare dependency”. The other was a visit to a young offender institute. I was walking around with one of the people in charge, and we crossed a yard and saw about a dozen young, mainly black, youths, He just nodded across and said, “Most of those can’t read or write. Their contact with our educational system has been but passing for the whole of their lives”.
Those two stories encapsulate the problem for people of my generation and that of the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I came into politics with certainties. We were going to implement the Beveridge report, provide a welfare state that would deal with poverty and we would have comprehensive education that would be not bog-standard but a gateway for social mobility. We need to accept that some of the aspirations of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have not come about. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, we have found mounting inequalities over the past three decades. What is more, we have found them being embedded in our society. I received a very good brief from Oxfam. It quotes Sir Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust, who said recently:
“Social mobility in Britain is much lower than in other advanced countries and is declining—those from less privileged backgrounds are more likely to continue facing disadvantage into adulthood, and the affluent continue to benefit disproportionately from educational opportunities”.
I do not think that there is some magic solution to this. Perhaps we will get a fourth way or a fifth way later—I do not know. Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith may not be everybody’s cup of tea politically but there is no doubt that, in trying to deal with welfare dependency and educational failure, they are addressing the right problems. In that respect, there needs to be a certain humility across the political divide in meeting those problems.
I believe that what the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said was right: we have got to go upstream to the very young as a first step. I look forward, certainly with humility on my side, to the contributions that will follow.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for his analysis, not least his observation that growth is not the answer and the unintended consequences of marketisation, as he called it. I probably want to explore what he might have meant by “the social, stupid”—there is an important clue in that.
I am engaged in this issue. In the City of Derby, where I work, I chair the inner city renewal project. That is the local authority and all kinds of voluntary and faith groups looking at how we can tackle this at grass-roots level, where there are a lot of people who are disadvantaged, with no social mobility and no equality in terms of finance, environment or opportunity. There are two ways of doing this. One is a needs-based approach—what are the needs and what resources can you put in to try to improve things?—and there is what they call an asset-based approach, which means asking what these people have in their own potential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said—what do they have that can be grown so that they can contribute?
I want to name a couple of presuppositions that we have to be careful of in this debate. We live in a world where everyone wants the social mobility graph to go up. There is a celebrity culture and everyone wants to be up there. Of course, things can only go up if other things go down. It is a very complex world. We tend to see equality and social mobility through a very individual lens. That is where “the social, stupid” is so important.
I want to talk about what I think is the missing ingredient here—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, hinted at it with his common values—which is mutuality. This is a debate with anecdotes and stories, and I am going to tell a very short story to illustrate mutuality. Aristotle says that we are social animals and the Christian Gospel says that you have to love your neighbour. We cannot live on our own—mutuality.
A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to rededicate the grave of a man called William Coltman VC. He received four other awards for bravery in the First World War, and he is buried in a village called Winshill near Burton-on-Trent. He went to war as a young man with a wife and young child, and he was a stretcher-bearer. On the front he won many awards and was in fact the most highly decorated soldier in the whole of the First World War—this is someone who did not have an officer rank. There are amazing stories of him crawling out and rescuing people, Germans as well as Allied people, saving lives and serving others. He came back to the little village that he had left, Winshill, as a local hero, but he resumed his job for the local council. He was a council gardener—he worked in what we call the parks department, I suppose—for all his life. There was no social mobility in terms of his becoming a vice-chancellor, his salary going up or whatever. His life was about service to others. He was involved in the Christian church in the place and he ran a Sunday school to form young people in mutuality. However, his life was fulfilled, exemplary and appropriate. He did not have to go up the social scale and did not have to earn a certain amount of money, but he lived a life that was full of mutuality.
In a world where mutuality is disappearing in personal relationships, which we see through an individual lens, from the workplace, because it is all about individual rights and benefits, and from politics, because the pitch that we make is to the selfish interests of each voter to vote for their own best deal, there is an enormous challenge to all of us to face up to what has been called “the social, stupid”. I ask the Minister: what role do the Government have, along with other agencies, to encourage people to look at this whole issue of inequality and the lack of social mobility, not just through the economic and individual lenses of progress and that kind of thing—going up the chart—but through the kind of common values that create communities and mutuality, where there is a different way of handling the downs as well as the ups and you are not measuring yourself or crucifying yourself against the wrong criteria?
Certainly, the inner city renewal project that I am involved in will flourish only through mutuality. There is not enough money, resources or good jobs to lift all these people, but there is something in the human spirit that can deliver. Governments do not control the human spirit but I think that they can initiate partnerships, set benchmarks and give signals to challenge “the social, stupid”, which is about measuring individual achievement, and they can try to bat for mutuality.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for initiating this debate. Working for a fairer society and improving social mobility have long been at the heart of Liberal Democrat policies. We do not have a monopoly on that—and certainly mutuality would be something else that we would espouse. But being in coalition government has given us the opportunity to put forward measures and arguments which, as with today’s debate, resonate not only with our coalition partners but across political parties and well beyond.
As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted in their excellent report, when one in six children—2.3 million children—are officially classified as poor, it extracts a high social price, and there is an economic price in wasted potential and lower growth. I shall concentrate my remarks on education and training for adult life, particularly for those whose start in life has been disadvantaged, and I acknowledge that women and girls can experience additional difficulties in the campaign for equality.
One of the forms of poverty that most severely hampers growth is poverty of aspiration. My noble friend Lord McNally spoke eloquently about aspiration. For those children whose experience has been limited and who know little of stable family life, or perhaps of the rewards and demands of working life, schools have a vital part to play in introducing them to the opportunities of the world of work. From an early age, children should understand the connections between school and work, between study and business, and between applying themselves and earning a living. Even at primary school, children’s imaginations can be captured by hearing about jobs and careers that they knew nothing about—and better still by visits to workplaces and meeting those genuinely enthusiastic about the work that they do. If this is important for children who enjoy academic learning, it is even more so for those who struggle with conventional lessons but who may have practical skills and talents that are not immediately valued, especially in league tables in a school environment.
Having worked for years on vocational qualifications for City & Guilds, I have seen how pupils can blossom when the curriculum gives them a chance to shine. I had been a classroom teacher, and I recall visiting schools that offer prevocational qualifications. The enthusiasm of the students was contagious as they applied themselves to mending car engines, caring for babies, planning and cooking meals—the very young people, as the schools told me, who had been demotivated and disruptive in academic lessons. They were acquiring not only skills but confidence and self-respect, which is much more likely to happen with good careers advice. One of the report’s recommendations was to urge the Government to improve resources for careers advice, a call that we are now hearing from all sides. I shall not task my noble friend the Minister with committing to this, but I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can be persuaded of the importance of careers education even given all the constraints on public spending and indeed, on the school timetable.
As my noble friend Lady Eaton said, we all welcome the increase in apprenticeships as a valid alternative to university, a true aid to social mobility. In a statement last March, the Government announced:
“We are extending apprenticeships to higher level skills and into the professions like insurance, accountancy and the law”.—[Official Report, 14/3/13; col. 400.]
Many of us are probably old enough to remember the days when professions had direct routes from school which were as highly regarded as graduate entry and led to careers that could be just as successful. For many young people, learning at work is more in line with their culture and ambitions, and we look forward to expansion of these routes into more professions and the end of inequalities between academic and practical attainment. As the commission recommends, non-graduate routes should become the norm across the professions.
Finally, I pay tribute to youth organisations for the part that they play in social mobility. Organisations such as scouting and girl guiding and the cadet organisations, and a wide range of voluntary and community youth groups, provide invaluable services, particularly in more disadvantaged areas and give young people an opportunity to develop personal and social skills, take responsibility and gain confidence, and learn both self-respect and respect for others. With the uniformed organisations and schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, young people are faced with challenges; they learn how to manage risk and develop ways which, whatever their start in life, can lead to fulfilling and useful lives. We cannot afford to squander the talents of any of our people, but I would submit that it is not just government that has a key role. All of us as members of society can play our part in helping young and old to fulfil their potential, realise aspirations and build a fairer society.
My Lords, I want to take my noble friend Lord McFall’s question seriously and ask: what is the relationship between inequality and social mobility? There are often problems when a technical concept enters popular and political discourse, and that has certainly been the case with the notion of social mobility. There are many misunderstandings about it. If one does not sort them out, it is almost impossible to make proper policy.
For example, the idea has taken hold that there has been a serious decline in social mobility over the past three or four decades. To quote the Observer, social mobility “has ground to a halt”. It was this concern that prompted the Milburn report and a range of other publications. However, there are two problems with this view. First, it seems to be substantially false. It has been subjected to a powerful critique from John Goldthorpe and his colleagues at the University of Oxford. Secondly—I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for being an academic about this but it is essential—the current discussion of social mobility fails to grasp the crucial distinction which sociologists make between absolute and relative mobility. We cannot understand current patterns of mobility if we do not grasp that notion. It is an essential distinction to make.
Absolute mobility refers to the proportion of people from specific class backgrounds who move upwards: in other words, the number of people who move upwards. Relative social mobility is a very different notion. It is the one that many people equate with social mobility, but that is wrong. Relative social mobility means the chances of individuals becoming mobile. In other words, it is a measure of social fluidity. It refers, if you like, to some individuals succeeding at the expense of others. It means that if there are high levels of relative upward mobility, there must be high levels of downward mobility as well. They are two very different notions and we have to sort them out.
The results of Goldthorpe's work are interesting and instructive for policy. They show that rates of absolute mobility from one generation to another across the 20th century in the UK and elsewhere have actually been quite high and remain high. The reason is simple: there has been an expansion of white-collar and professional occupations at the expense of less skilled manual jobs. The main reason for the apparent fluidity of our society is that structural change has produced a lot more opportunities at the top. Goldthorpe also shows, interestingly, that relative mobility has remained static across that period. In other words, contrary to what one might assume, the UK did not become a more fluid society over the past 40 or 50 years; there was not more fluidity and movement. Almost all the movement was upward mobility going into the jobs that were created.
Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, described, individual capacities make a difference as to who gets into those positions. However, the dominant feature is structural mobility over that period not, if you like, a more just or equal society.
Obviously, that does not mean that the plethora of policies contained in the Milburn report are without value but, as Goldthorpe says, no matter how gratifying those policies may be, politically their impact is likely to be quite limited. He is right to say that. In other words, more advantaged groups are often able to draw on their resources to negate the policies introduced with the best of intentions for introducing more relative mobility. That is a serious issue for such policies. For example, you might introduce a policy to help kids from an inner-city school to get into a higher level of the system, but middle-class parents can easily mobilise to negate that because they are not stupid and they know what is going on, too. So there is a powerful dialectic in all of this.
The conclusion that I draw is similar to Goldthorpe’s conclusion, which is that we must place the emphasis on equality rather than mobility. Social mobility in everyday talk these days functions as a kind of relatively seemingly painless equivalent for equality. As the noble Lord, Lord McFall, stressed, equality comes first because without greater equality we cannot improve social mobility. Equality not only trumps mobility, it is the main source of achievement. I do not see what policies the Government have for limiting the structural inequalities that were so well defined in the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord McFall.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for securing this vital debate. From listening to today’s debate and to wider debates in the area, it is sometimes tempting to think that there is a singular causal connection between these two worrying economic trends—growing income inequality and slowing social mobility. I suspect that the truth is not so simple. There is a significant body of research suggesting that rising inequality and lower social mobility are both symptoms of the same condition. This condition, as we heard so eloquently from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—I do not pretend to have his academic background—is what is sometimes called the hollowing out of the labour market. Increasingly the UK labour market is characterised by very high-skill, high-wage jobs on the one hand and low-skill, low-wage jobs on the other. This is having a major impact on feelings of fairness and social cohesion. For the record, yes I think that the widening gap between the rich and the poor really matters.
In the light of this fact about our labour market, I would like to focus today on the role that education plays in creating greater equality of opportunity. This is not because I do not think that certain economic measures can improve income equality. In fact, I believe that things such as raising the minimum wage and encouraging employers to pay a living wage, which is something I support very strongly, could make a significant difference. I want to focus on education because, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, it is only through education that we can truly tackle the pernicious problem of intergenerational social mobility. As the Save the Children’s briefing for this debate highlighted, the top performing countries on international educational comparisons—Hong Kong, Canada, and Japan—all have a comparatively low correlation between the socioeconomic status of a child’s parents and his or her performance in school. Therefore, if we are going to improve our education system to meet the highest international standards, which we must, we have to meet the challenge of improving inter-generational mobility head on.
Through my work as the vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Social Mobility, I have come to the conclusion that any social mobility strategy needs to have the following primary goal: continuously evaluating and improving our education system to ensure that all children develop the skills necessary to succeed in a demanding and changing labour market. This means investing to improve the quality of education that underprivileged children receive throughout their lives. Given that privileged children continue to enjoy disproportionately high access to a good education it should be no surprise that a person’s ability to get on in today’s jobs market is strongly correlated with the resources enjoyed by his or her parents. This lack of intergenerational mobility will continue unless we make a commitment to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. I think that state sector education should be as good as, if not better than education in the independent sector. Importantly, this equality of access refers not only to education during the school years, but early years education, further education and higher education. I would say that further education is often neglected in these debates.
I shall refer briefly, as did the noble Lord, Lord McFall, to the 2010 OECD report on income inequality. That report made clear that one of the best ways for developed nations to improve their overall rate of social mobility is by lengthening at both ends the portion of a child’s life that he or she spends learning, regardless of his or her parents’ income level. Today, access to high-quality early years education as well as higher education is still disproportionately enjoyed by those on the higher end of the income spectrum. This must change if we are to see any improvement in the overall level of social mobility.
Lengthening the time that every person spends in education will ultimately help more people be more qualified for better jobs. Employers are increasingly looking for employees with technological literacy, advanced foreign language skills and other key qualifications for a career in the 21st century. At the same time, employers are looking for certain character and resilience traits. They want people who do not get discouraged when the going gets tough, who can bounce back, who can work in teams and build meaningful relationships. These soft skills—or non-cognitive skills—are crucial to social mobility and should feature far more prominently among our educational priorities, particularly in the early years. The evidence shows how important this is.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Eaton for mentioning that, next week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility will publish a major manifesto on character and resilience, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate it.
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord McFall for tabling this Question for Short Debate. It has enabled an excellent opportunity for us to discuss this important subject.
The 2013 report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is, in part, sombre and depressing reading. Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, and becoming richer, we have struggled to become fairer. As my noble friend Lord McFall pointed out, the UK is now ranked 28th out of 34 countries in the OECD equality table.
In this short debate it will not be possible to make all the points and put all the questions to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that I wish to. However, I have a few points to make and a few questions. I do not expect to get all the answers today but I would like a commitment from the Minister to write to me after the debate and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
The figures on child poverty are there for us all to see. By making a real effort to tackle the causes of child poverty, we could create a tangible boost to the economy by as much as twice the cost that we are paying for child poverty today. The achievement of lower child poverty and higher social mobility comes back to universal affordable child care, higher quality jobs, fair access to higher education, work incentives that encourage employment and tackling income inequality. There is plenty of evidence out there that if we were fairer as a nation we would all be better off.
I support initiatives such as breakfast clubs and universal free school meals to help children. They would ensure that children had a hot meal inside them and were able to learn better. I commend the report of the inquiry by the London Assembly, chaired by my friend, Fiona Twycross AM. The report is entitled A Zero Hunger City and has the backing of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It makes many recommendations, including working with partners to establish sustainable breakfast clubs in London; lobbying the Government to agree with the London Food Board to identify models for providing universal free school meals for all schoolchildren; monitoring risk factors for food poverty, including welfare reform; school plans to identify and address hunger throughout the school day; and support for families in food poverty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made some excellent points about resilience and people working to achieve their goals despite what life throws at them. I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he spoke about growing up and being lucky. I am a little younger than the noble Lord but we also did not have a great deal of money and my parents had to have second jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. They arrived in this country in the 1950s as immigrants from Ireland. However, I lived in a stable family on a safe council estate in Southwark. I was always encouraged and supported and I am lucky to have had that.
I have always been of the opinion that going to work was good for people. We must have in place measures to make work pay and to deal with low pay. It is most regrettable that the UK remains at the wrong end of the international league table on wages, with more than one in five full-time workers classified as low-paid. Those most at risk of being low-paid are young, female, low-skilled workers in temporary or part-time work, often in the hospitality, retail or care sectors. Given this and the imbalance in the growth of the economy, things can be very tough in some parts of the regions and nations of this country. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, also made a point about his visit to Leicester. That reminded me of a conversation that I had with my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who told me that he had gone back to where he had grown up and met people who had not worked in three generations. That is something that we have to address; that cannot be right.
Many times in the Grand Committee and in the Chamber of the House of Lords we have talked about reducing the deficit. There is no arguing about that—we have to reduce it. However, it is unfair for the lowest earning fifth of households to make a larger contribution than any other group than the top 20%, both as a proportion as their incomes and in absolute terms, with low-income families, and especially lone parents, losing out by more than their peers as a proportion of their net income. The fact is that we are a divided country; there are haves and have-nots. Because we are not fairer, we all lose out and, in particular, some people never get the chance to develop, let alone to realise their true potential.
Have the Government looked at the London Assembly report, A Zero Hunger City? What did they think of it—and, if they have not looked at it, will they look at it? In reducing the deficit, as we come to the last part of this Parliament, what are they going to do to make the debt reduction programme fairer for all? It appears likely at present that the Government will not meet their 2020 targets on child poverty. What is the plan to get that back on track? What are we going to do to make work pay in more cases than at present, and what examples are the Government setting on making work pay? Is the living wage the answer? What government departments and agencies pay the living wage, and do the companies that they contract do so? What do they say to business about making work pay for employees? He may not reply to all those points today, but if he could write to me I would appreciate it. I thank my noble friend for this debate.
My Lords, this has been an invaluable debate. I was reading the debate that we had under the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, some six months ago, and I hope that we shall have another one in another six months’ time because there are some really serious issues that we all have to struggle with.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, compared the British position to the American position. I recognise the comparison but I also recognise the differences. The American Administration are not attempting to push through a social mobility strategy as we are doing. Indeed, the inequalities in the United States, in economic and other terms, are much wider than they are in Britain. At least we have a consensus across all parties in Britain that we have to tackle what has been a long-term problem with a long-term response. The noble Lord mentioned the former Prime Minister John Major as well as Harold Macmillan; this issue has developed over the past 25 to 30 years and it will take 25 to 30 years to cope with it, against the headwinds of continuing economic and technological changes, both within Britain and abroad. After all, it is partly a result of global economic trends, with the collapse of the old mass-manufacturing industry that supported the skilled working class in stable working-class communities, with the institutions that held those communities together, such as the chapel, the trade union and the Workers’ Educational Association—a co-operative, heaven knows—which have also decayed with the decay of the economic structures that held them all together. I see the right reverend Prelate nodding. I can say from the point of view of West Yorkshire that the church has survived more successfully than many of the non-conformist churches in some of those areas, and I am very grateful for that.
The time when those organisations were dominant was a time when mobility was lower than it was later, for the reasons that I mentioned.
Yes, there was selective mobility, and that is part of the issue that we have. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, talked about her father and her grandmother. My parents-in-law were the youngest in a working class family and their eldest brothers and sisters paid for them to stay at school through Bradford grammar school and university. There was in those years very small-scale social mobility for a small minority of the bright poor who got out, so to speak.
That is much more like it.
Precisely. Britain’s situation also reflects the historic anomaly, of which I am very conscious as I have just come from a meeting of the advisory board on the centenary of World War I and have been reading into early 20th century history, that we have much more continuity of social structures over the past 150 years than many of our comparators. We still have the structure of private schools, which supported the Empire. We still have an unelected House of Lords. We still have a social hierarchy which is remarkably resistant to change, whereas in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and, to some extent, also in France and Italy those old structures were swept away, which made it easier to have a more mobile and mutually respecting society.
The coalition Government’s social mobility agenda is something which we see as a cross-party, cross-government exercise, and it starts from the assumption that there has to be a partnership between economy, society and state—we have to get all those things in balance. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that we shall be working on that against a number of very difficult global economic trends and against the challenge of the next round of economic and technological change, which may well sweep away a very large number of basic white-collar jobs, thus raising all sorts of issues about moving towards a society in which there are a number of extremely successful, very well paid people and, at the other end, a number of poorly paid, poorly skilled people. Dealing with that will take quite a lot of effort in our turn.
I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that when I was an undergraduate, my most inspirational teacher was a graduate student called John Goldthorpe, so I have a great deal of respect for everything that John has written and continues to write. However, as the noble Lord knows well, perfect equality is not achievable; a reduction in the degree of inequality is. That is, after all, what a liberal society should attempt to work for. This Government are mounting an attack on tax avoidance. We face the problem of what I have to call the rootless rich, who have escaped the boundaries of nation states and thus managed extremely successfully to avoid tax. We need taxes on wealth, which is much less mobile than income. At the bottom, we have increased the threshold at which people start to pay income tax. There is the move towards universal credit and in encouraging more people into work. We are extremely happy that the level of youth unemployment is now on a downward trend, and we are doing as much as we can to ensure that that continues.
International economic trends help us. The Financial Times had an interesting article yesterday which suggested that there is now a downward trend in excessive executive salaries after the excesses of the past 20 years. We are affected by what is happening elsewhere, and we have to push very hard to provide for our own deeply interdependent society as much of a social compact in the global economy as we can. I worry about the impact on British society and the British economy of the influx of the super-wealthy from non-democratic states. That ought to be of concern, particularly to all those who live in London and the south-east of England.
We have now reached the stage where we all realise that the state cannot deal with a problem like that alone; the state cannot provide everything and our taxpayers are unwilling to pay for much more of what is needed. They want the services, but they are deeply resistant to higher taxation, so we have to talk about the role of independent social initiatives—what I still like to call the big society—the role of local communities and local action. Incidentally, we have to think about planning and building communities which hang together. Living in Saltaire, which is a very dense village where it is impossible not to know your neighbours, and having canvassed when I was the local candidate for Shipley in a number of the new housing estates where you do not know your neighbours, the husband has gone out in the only family car and the wife is marooned on her own, I am very conscious that the way in which we build communities in Britain also deserves a great deal more attention. We need more local government and local engagement and, as we have said about other areas, we need to persuade more of the young to vote and become engaged, because we know that all our political parties are pooled towards supporting the old and not putting enough money into the young.
On equality of education, the Government are now extending the pupil premium. In September 2014 we will extend 15 free hours of high-quality early education to 40% of two year-olds—not an easy task when at the same time the number of two year-olds is rising quite sharply. We inherited Teach First from our predecessor Labour Government and we have continued to expand it. The Teach First teachers that I have seen in various schools in West Yorkshire are absolutely first-class. We all know from what the All-Party Group on Social Mobility has said that raising the quality of teaching is a very important part of all this. Intergenerational equity, putting more money into children at the early stage, is very much part of what we need to do.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, also mentioned the professions. I have to say that the figures on professions are deeply worrying, and I hope that whichever Government come in next time will look in particular at the question of recruitment into the legal profession as the one that sticks out most strongly as an inherited one.
Aspiration, character and resilience are clearly extremely important; I think that we have all now gripped that. Providing children with a sense of self-worth through school, careers guidance, music, sports, volunteering and mentoring is important. I am an extremely strong supporter of the National Citizen Service; I am about to ask the Cabinet Office whether it will be willing to provide an introduction to the NCS to any Member of the House of Lords who would like to see it, because I became enthusiastic when I had seen one or two courses myself. Through partnership with business, the Government now have a business compact. The Deputy Prime Minister has just given Opening Doors awards to a number of businesses that have been extremely good at pulling people into work. Apprenticeships are important, and I have to say that the apprentice that we had in the Government Whips’ Office was a classic example—a young woman who had been a hairdresser, and had not thought that she could be anything else, who blossomed in the six months that she was with us. All these things help to give young people a greater sense that they can do things. That is a very large agenda.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, we have to be careful to get beyond the idea that it is all about everyone getting to the top. The importance of the apprenticeship schemes, which I am extremely proud of this Government expanding, is that they are giving a number of young people a sense of self-worth in craft skills. That is a revival of an old mutuality of respect that we clearly need to do. Unfortunately, we cannot provide the independent business that also used to be part of the business of respect. I come from four different families and my great-grandparents were all small shopkeepers, so I am incredibly petty bourgeois. The mutuality of respect is part of what we all now need to rebuild.
We are out of time but we could have debated this for a great deal longer. I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue, and I repeat: I hope that we will continue to address this subject as a very broad long-term issue for this country over the years to come.
Committee adjourned at 4.59 pm.