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Social Mobility

Volume 779: debated on Monday 20 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the findings of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility The Class Ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions, published on 17 January, that talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are facing significant barriers to accessing jobs in the top professions.

My Lords, we welcome this excellent report highlighting that, all too often, family background determines success in later life. The Secretary of State recently set out how education should be central to transforming social mobility by ensuring that all young people have access to the right knowledge and skills, high-quality advice and opportunities for challenging, life-shaping experiences to prepare them for career success. Employers also need to do more to attract and draw out the talents of employees from all backgrounds.

I thank the Minister for his helpful Answer. The report of the All-Party Group on Social Mobility—I declare an interest as co-chair—vividly demonstrated that students from disadvantaged backgrounds were not gaining access to either the elite universities or the top professions, with the gulf between London and the rest of the country being particularly stark. The report contains important and wide-ranging recommendations to tackle this. Can the Minister say when the Government will be able to respond in writing to these recommendations, and will he agree to meet with me to discuss them?

We will be responding in due course on the recommendations and will, of course, focus very much on opportunity areas—to take the noble Baroness’s point about the situation outside London. I agree entirely with the conclusions. The Sutton Trust tells us that the 7% of the population educated privately gets nearly 60% of the top jobs in this country. We have to do better than that. I will be delighted to meet with the noble Baroness.

Will my noble friend agree that a useful contribution to assisting low-income families could be made through the provision of large numbers of free places at independent schools under partnership arrangements between the Government and schools themselves?

As my noble friend knows, we are very keen to encourage partnership arrangements between independent schools and the state sector, and we are in active discussions with them about that. We are considering all the proposals we have had—some 7,000—as a result of our consultation document, and we will react to those shortly.

Are the Government aware that not only are the professions out of kilter with regard to the socially immobile but that social immobility was a very large factor in the Brexit referendum last year?

There is no question but that many of the social issues had a big influence on the vote last year.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the social mobility strategy recommended by the APPG should be developed as a matter of urgency so that the country can make use of all the talents available? Will he further agree that mentoring of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those from black and ethnic minorities, is absolutely invaluable, and will he welcome the new initiative, entitled One Million Mentors, which was launched last week?

As I said, we will respond to the report shortly, but I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of mentoring. I know that Chance UK has an active programme in that, and the system she refers to is definitely to be encouraged. At the Bridge Academy in Hackney, which is sponsored by UBS, over 1,000 UBS employees mentor individual pupils every year. When you talk to pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom have often not met people who work in white-collar jobs before at all, you understand that mixing with people like this and going to their place of work clearly has a transformational impact.

My Lords, as well as the fact that there are not as many disaffected and disadvantaged young people getting into Russell group universities as there should be, there is a real problem in that, once they are in key roles, they do not progress as quickly as they should, particularly in areas such as the Civil Service and the NHS.

My noble friend makes a very good point. I think that she is talking about what the Sutton Trust has termed “essential life skills”. It recently pointed out that Harvard University has said that the people who have been successful in recent years and are likely to be successful over the next 20 years are those with essential life skills. It is very important that all schools develop these, and I know that many of them do. Certainly, the Civil Service has a talent programme for bringing on people from a wide range of backgrounds.

My Lords, building on the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the Careers & Enterprise Company launched a mentoring community and fund. What resources are the Government providing to ensure that this mentoring, particularly in soft skills and confidence-building, is available for children from disadvantaged backgrounds?

The noble Baroness is quite right to point to the Careers & Enterprise Company, which seems to have got off to a great start. It is very ably run by a bright young woman called Claudia Harris, formerly of McKinsey. We have made £90 million available over this Parliament for the Careers & Enterprise Company and for programmes that use the mentoring approach. The CEC has already appointed 1,300 advisers across the country to help improve links between employers and schools.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is a real challenge to help these young people to recognise the talents that they have, to give them a sense of ambition and to nurture those ambitions through these important years in their development?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord on that. Increasingly we are seeing schools develop what is sometimes called a “raising ambitions” programme to raise their pupils’ horizons and ambitions. All too often in the past schools have not been ambitious enough for their pupils. I recently attended a very inspiring event run by Ormiston Academies Trust, which is developing a raising aspirations programme, and we are seeing many more of these kinds of programmes being developed.

My Lords, perhaps I may raise the issue of the new universities and the large numbers of young people from working-class backgrounds who choose to do law and invest in their futures by going on to qualify as solicitors but do not get training contracts. There is an absolute dearth of these contracts for students from modern universities—the former polytechnics and all these new universities that the Government are so keen to create. Ordinary working-class families encourage their children to go into areas where they assume there will be jobs, but there are no training contracts because they all go to the privileged.

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We are very keen to see access widened to all professions. I know that the Sutton Trust has a very active programme for those wishing to go into law, and it is certainly something that we will be looking at further.