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Employment: Elite Professions

Volume 762: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to implement the recommendations of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report on non-educational barriers to elite professions.

The noble Lord will be aware that the recommendations of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission are for employers rather than the Government. Recruitment practices are also a matter for employers. Clearly, participation in higher education is one of the key factors in improving social mobility and we now have record levels of disadvantaged students entering higher education.

Does the noble Baroness agree that it is outrageous and ridiculous to make any suggestion that client expectation is a barrier to elite professions doing more to break down non-educational barriers to entry? Elite professions need to do much more to improve the diversity of the people that they employ and to ensure that, no matter where you went to school and where you grew up, if you have made the grade and got the talent you get a fair chance of getting the job.

My Lords, there has been a lot of hot air over this report, but what really matters for social mobility is education, getting people into work and working with employers, which we have been doing through the social mobility business compact. It has been focusing on work in schools to raise aspiration, providing fair work experience and inclusive recruitment practices, which picks up what the noble Lord said.

Would my noble friend agree with me that the best way of improving social mobility is the creation of jobs? Could she perhaps tell the House how the Government are performing on their target of 1,000 jobs per day?

I very much agree with my noble friend that having a job is key. This is a Government for working people. To come back to the first point, we know that families with working members have much better outcomes than those with only non-working members. This Government are about education for others, employment and better apprenticeships and we are making great progress.

Does the noble Baroness agree with me, drawing on my experience as a tutor for admissions, that certain government and coalition policies have actually made social mobility more difficult? First, certain potential students cannot afford to leave home and go to better universities; they are forced to stay at home because they cannot afford the maintenance. The Government have not tackled that. I appreciate that tuition fees are not a barrier, but maintenance is. Secondly, the removal of legal aid and the cutting of lawyers’ fees has made enormous difficulty for young, poor people from disadvantaged backgrounds wanting to join the legal profession. It is much worse than it was before.

I do not entirely agree with the noble Baroness. In England I believe that we have a sustainable and fair higher education system based on affordable student loans. That is despite dire predictions in this House and elsewhere. I defer to my noble friend Lord Faulks on legal aid. There are opportunities in the professions and the legal and professional firms are really making some progress in trying to widen things. We must encourage them to do that rather than complaining about it.

My Lords, is the Minister, who seems to be an expert on hot air, aware of the report just a couple of days ago on this matter in the Financial Times—not noted for its hot air—which reports that one of the employers on this very question of bias in recruitment said, “Some of these people did not go to public schools, so they would not understand our public school jokes”? Well, they wouldn’t, would they?

I am not clear what question I am supposed to be responding to. You have to remember that it is not surprising that leading professions and companies seek to recruit from top universities as well as other universities—they are doing both. I speak as a businesswoman when I say that companies need students and candidates with social skills, persistence, know-how and brain power. As I said in reply to the Question, it is very good news that we now have a record level of disadvantaged students entering higher education. This cannot be a one-sided debate.

The Minister referred to social skills. Does she agree that one reason often quoted by employers for the lack of access to good jobs for young people is insufficient emphasis in the national curriculum in state schools on those softer skills that prepare young people for the world of work? Would she undertake to discuss that issue with colleagues from the Department for Education?

The noble Baroness makes an excellent point. I would of course be happy to discuss that with my colleagues in the Department for Education. Graduates need to leave university with a range of skills so that people can succeed in the professions or wherever they choose to go. This is also an important part of the work to which BIS can contribute.