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Social Mobility

Volume 787: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to address the concerns raised in the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report published in November 2016.

My Lords, through its reports to Parliament the Social Mobility Commission does important advocacy work on this vital issue. Social mobility is the department’s priority. We want to make sure that all children are school-ready by age five, drive high attainment at key stages 2 and 4, ensure that all young people have access to a high-quality post-16 route and open up opportunities for young people to access a high-quality career.

Among the many issues raised in last year’s report, the one that strikes me as of most concern is that only one in eight children from low-income families can expect to progress to managerial professional careers. On the assumption that the Government share my concern, what specific action are they taking to address this lost opportunity?

The noble Lord raises an important point. I am sure that all noble Lords are aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place has placed social mobility at the core of her mission in this department. One of her key concerns is the creation of 12 opportunity areas in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, six of which have now issued their own plans to tackle some of the issues that the noble Lord raises.

My Lords, the Social Mobility Commission found that many minority communities were being left behind and made many specific recommendations in that regard. One concerns Muslim women, particularly those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, who do very well in education and go on to university but are less likely to find well-paid jobs. With that in mind, the commission called for schools, universities and employers to provide targeted support to ensure that Muslim women progress in the workplace. What is being done to meet this aim?

My Lords, over the last seven years, we have put a lot of emphasis on helping students from less advantaged backgrounds into higher education. That includes, of course, those from minority backgrounds. We are spending £840 million a year to help disadvantaged students into university. That is nearly twice as much as in 2010. That includes things such as outreach programmes, pastoral support and support for internships. All these things will help the group to which the noble Baroness referred.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the excellent work he has done in the past in supporting Michael Gove to improve the standards and performance of our schools offers hope for improved social mobility, and that the failure of the parties opposite to tackle these problems is the reason that many people have been disadvantaged?

My Lords, I can only agree with that comment but let me put a little flesh on the bones. In 2010, we undertook to take on the most failing schools in this country and put them into the sponsored academy programme. Over 1,900 schools were taken on from 150 local authorities. As at the current date, 68% of those that have been inspected are now providing a good or better education. That is 1.8 million more children in good education than in 2010. However, we are not complacent. My main motivator in this job is to ensure that momentum is continued.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some of the most disadvantaged children in terms of social mobility are those for whom we have responsibility—that is, the children in public care? Often one of the saddest things about their experience is the number of moves that they have to make, not only in terms of their care but from one school to another. Can the Minister assure the House that the needs of these children will be a priority for the Government?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that they are a high priority. Indeed, in the next few weeks we will announce some work on alternative provision which captures a lot of these very vulnerable children. He may be aware that we have opened 39 alternative-provision free schools in the last seven years, 82% of which have already been rated as good or outstanding.

My Lords, on my visits to primary schools in Coventry in Warwickshire, I am often struck by head teachers in poorer areas telling me that they cannot help their children without also helping the families, who often face very complex issues. The Minister referred to the opportunity areas. Can he confirm that there is a plan to involve parents and guardians in that work of uplift and that there will be help for head teachers in that task?

The right reverend Prelate raises an important point—that families are vital to the process of dealing with disadvantaged communities. When I ran a number of academy schools, the thing that struck me most was dealing with the lack of aspiration among the parents. Looking at one of the first opportunity area plans, which has just been published and which happens to be in my own area of Norwich, I can see that the stakeholders cover a number of the communities that the right reverend Prelate refers to. Therefore, I am confident that families will be included in the process.

My Lords, would the Minister like to comment on the relationship between a growing economy and the dynamics of social change? In the light of that, would he also like to comment on the effect that a policy of austerity has had on social mobility?

I am being put on my mettle today, my Lords. I think that austerity has affected different communities in different ways. The real-term incomes of the most disadvantaged sector of our community—the bottom 20% of earners—have increased over the last seven years. We have also been very focused on helping to bring about affordable housing, which of course deals with the most vulnerable people, and have committed £9.4 billion to delivering over 400,000 new affordable homes by 2021. We remain very focused on this.