I beg to move,
That this House has considered social mobility and the economy.
Most of our debates in this place are about problems, but today, I want to have a debate about solutions. Improving our poor social mobility is this country’s biggest challenge, and our biggest opportunity. Britain will not truly succeed until it becomes a country where there is equality of opportunity for the first time.
Like other hon. Members present, I did not grow up with advantage or privilege. I grew up in Rotherham, south Yorkshire, where my father and grandfather worked in the steel industry. My father would probably have benefited from the national minimum wage being in place and he spent time unemployed, so I know what it is like to grow up in a family on benefits. I am sure that many young people who are starting out today feel the same as I did: I never wanted to have extra advantages over my peers; I just wanted to have the same opportunities as everyone else—a level playing field.
Most people in our county are not connected. They do not necessarily have someone who they can ask for advice on careers when they need it. They do not have someone to make the right introductions to get them work experience. When they apply for jobs, they do not have anyone who knows x, y or z in that company to put in a good word for them. They do not have the contacts to help them to get work experience in the kinds of companies that they might be interested in working for, so they tend not to get as much experience and do not do as well when they apply for jobs. Because of that, far too much of our nation’s talent goes to waste, which is totally unacceptable and has to change. There is still such a thing as a class ceiling for most people in Britain, and we have to get rid of it.
A year from now, Britain will be on the verge of Brexit. The debate has divided our country, but the time is rapidly approaching when we will need to come together behind some sort of common vision of what kind of country we want Britain to be post-Brexit. That common vision should be of finally creating a Britain that has equality of opportunity for the first time. Brexit must be a moment for change when we smash that class ceiling on opportunity once and for all. In a knowledge-based, global economy, it has never been more important to use all our nation’s talent to the max.
I will focus on social mobility and the economy, and the huge role that businesses can play in driving the economic benefits of social mobility. The social mobility dividend for our economy and our people is significant.
In July, the Sutton Trust published its modelling of the link between stronger social mobility and productivity. The research looked specifically at European countries and found that, if the UK simply improved its performance on social mobility to match the western European average, the benefit to our economy would be an improved annual GDP of between 2.1% and 9%. That is an annual benefit to our economy of between £39 billion to £179 billion, which is the equivalent of each household being £590 to £2,620 better off. We talk about minimising tariffs and barriers to have strong trade, but talent is no different. We know the benefits of free trade, and a free market in talent is just as, or perhaps even more, important.
Education has a huge role to play. The social mobility action plan that I launched before Christmas sets out a clear agenda for the Department for Education to strongly tilt its strategy to lift up the educational prospects of children being left behind. Business has a key role to play too.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing the debate. On educational underachievement, does she agree that, in many working class communities, getting beyond that barrier to achieve is about getting beyond looking at school as a dredge or as something that minimises capability? We have to try to promote that, to ensure that people break the class ceiling, as she puts it.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are three elements to that. First, it is great that the educational attainment gap is steadily closing, but it needs to happen faster. Secondly, businesses can play a role in lifting the aspirations of young people while they are in our education systems, starting from the earliest age in primary school, which is part of what the social mobility pledge asks companies to come forward and do. Thirdly, we must ensure that businesses continue to nurture and develop young people’s talent once they enter the world of work, and that they have a level playing field when they seek to progress their career after leaving the education system.
This is an important debate and having a former Secretary of State for Education here is a real treat for us. At the moment, the Government fund young people who go to university to the tune of about £10,500. For people who go to a further education college, the funding is about half that. For young people who get an apprenticeship, it is about £1,500 on average. For people who fall off the cliff altogether, there is very little money and it is a confused landscape, unless they end up in the criminal justice system, in which case we spend a fortune on them. Does the right hon. Lady believe that it is time the money followed the young person rather than the institution?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. The T-levels reform will help to ensure that the route a young person follows, whether they are interested in a more academic route and university, or want a more vocational, technical route, will be every bit as high quality as any other. Towards the end of my comments, I will briefly talk about how Government reform could enable that to happen more easily.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful case for social mobility. It is important to record that we still have big issues with the attainment gap in Scotland, where children from the most deprived households are much less likely to go to university compared with those in England. Social mobility needs to be spread across the whole United Kingdom. The benefits of people being mobile need to spread to every part of the kingdom, not just those living in London and the south-east.
I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. We face a simple but powerful problem: talent is spread evenly across the country, but opportunity is not. We need to ensure that we nurture that talent. I share his concern that educational attainment in Scotland looks like it is slipping backwards relative to the rest of the UK.
In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), it is important to point out that the UCAS website says that
“in Scotland, around one third of admissions are not processed through UCAS, so this provides only part of the picture of entry to higher education”.
That should be placed on the record and hon. Members should keep it in mind. It is important not to do down Scottish education, because there are many positive things about it. A higher percentage of our students who attend university have been to further education courses first, which is not picked up by the UCAS stats either.
A lot of hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, would dispute those facts.
I recognise that there is an important debate to be had on higher education, but I want to focus my comments on business and the economy because business has a key role to play in improving social mobility in our country. Today, I am asking businesses large and small to commit to a universal social mobility pledge.
I hugely thank David Harrison and the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility for crucially supporting the work to enable us to launch the pledge today. The social mobility pledge is about three things: partnership between schools and businesses; businesses offering access to work experience or apprenticeships; and businesses having recruitment practices that are transparent and open, to promote a level playing field for talent.
First, partnering with schools is something that every single company, big or small, can do. It does not have to be hard. Some outstanding organisations are already providing a platform for action, and the resources needed for companies and businesses to make a start: Speakers for Schools; Inspiring the Future; the Careers and Enterprise Company; and the Prince’s Trust, which is setting up the e-mentor scheme, to name just a few. A lot of these organisations want to do more working through business, and they also want to do that in locations outside London and the south-east, where young people often have fewer opportunities. However, we need the fantastic employers in those areas to come forward to help make that happen.
Some great organisations are doing amazing work on access to work experience and apprenticeships, such as the Social Mobility Business Partnership, which can help. I also say a massive “thank you” to Barry Matthews, who set up the SMBP, for his help in working with me recently to help put together the social mobility pledge, so that companies large and small can get behind it. The Social Mobility Foundation does a huge amount of great work. Alongside that is the Sutton Trust, which I mentioned earlier and which has pioneered so many of the great initiatives that we have learned from and that companies can get involved in.
All companies can make a decision to open their doors and let young people who might not have any idea about that organisation come in and spend time learning about it, shadowing people and working on projects that give them a sense of what working in those careers is like.
This is a fantastic speech and I thank the right hon. Lady for sharing her experience and ideas. In Rotherham, which she knows well, employers are looking to open their doors, but we also need teachers and parents to give the young people a shove to go over the threshold.
The hon. Lady is right—this must be a two-way street. I put the call out to teachers to have the confidence to work with businesses that want to come and help raise aspirations for their young people, just as teachers themselves do. Inspiring the Future works successfully with thousands of schools—primary and secondary—around our country. We know such activity can work and we know how it benefits those children. Today, I am seeking to expand the opportunities for children who currently do not have enough of them.
Businesses such as South East Coachworks, Macknade and BMM Weston in my constituency make huge efforts to give kids work experience and opportunities, as do schools such as the Abbey School. However, the children still tell me that they want more work experience, and to know more about career opportunities and what work will be like. I fully support my right hon. Friend’s initiative to make it easier for businesses and schools to work together and give children the opportunities that can help them to get ahead in life.
I am grateful for that intervention because it gives me the chance to point out that a recent study up in the north-east showed that 83% of young people felt that having work experience should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. The challenge that they and we face is that there are not enough opportunities for them to do that—it does not matter whether they are growing up in Kent or in Newcastle. Businesses alone can help us to close that gap between the work experience that young people know they need and want, and the opportunities for them to do that while they are going through school.
The final piece of the pledge is about open recruitment practices. Changes such as introducing name-blind recruitment or contextual recruitment can help to promote a level playing field for candidates. In name-blind recruitment, the candidate’s name is replaced by a number and their CV is then assessed as normal. Employers can have unconscious bias in respect of black and minority ethnic candidates, and name bias based on gender and traditional working-class names, so name-blind approaches work. That is why Clifford Chance, a major law company, uses name-blind recruitment—in fact, it is one of the founding companies signed up to the pledge.
Contextual recruitment, which was referred to in the Social Mobility Commission’s annual report in 2016, takes into account the situation in which the academic and personal success of a candidate have been achieved, and how their performance compares with that of their peers from similar backgrounds who have had similar opportunities. It is already used by companies such as Deloitte, and by some of the magic circle law firms such as Linklaters. The research shows that disadvantaged applicants were 50% more likely to be hired using contextual recruitment than they otherwise would have been.
Finally, I am especially grateful for the support of the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce, and the many businesses that have signed up to the pledge, including companies such as BT, ITV, Adidas, Severn Trent, Viacom, KPMG, Aviva and PwC, to name just a few. The British Chambers of Commerce is encouraging all 75,000 of its members to sign up to the pledge, which is fantastic. Achieving that would be transformational. Similarly, the Federation of Small Businesses is behind the pledge and is encouraging its 170,000 members to commit to it.
What my right hon. Friend is saying is very powerful. In the north-east of Scotland, we are obviously dominated by the oil and gas industry, but there are skills shortages—they are not necessarily among graduates but among those from a technical college or technical college background. I do not want to overly politicise this debate, but we have to ensure we get the balance right. In my constituency, Aker Solutions and Wood Group—two huge employers—are concerned about getting enough technical and engineering staff. Are we getting the balance of academia—technical colleges and universities—and apprenticeships right?
The short answer is that we do not know, because to date young people have not really had the choices that they want and deserve when they want to follow a technical education route. If our technical education reforms open up that form of education as an opportunity for young people, it would not only be a win for them—young people should not have to stop their education just because they do not want to follow an academic route—but a huge win for British business, which is crying out for the skills these young people want to learn. In launching the pledge today, I seek to knit together those aligned incentives and hopes, so that we can start to unlock opportunity for both young people and businesses.
I will briefly draw my comments to a close. As I have said, with this level of support from companies large and small, I believe that we can work together to have a huge impact. I would also like Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to work collectively to make a difference in our local communities. That is what I will do. I will ask my local companies to commit to the social mobility pledge, and will sign up to the pledge as an employer. We should seek to work on a cross-party basis to galvanise British business, because we know that, when Parliament speaks with one voice, business listens.
I also hope the Government support the social mobility pledge and align cross-departmental policy to help us to go further and faster on social mobility. For example, we could look at how the apprenticeship levy can evolve, whether extending into supporting work experience or focusing on geographic areas that need more investment in training, such as opportunity areas. We can look at the development of degree apprenticeships, which are hugely popular but are in the early days of making the impact that they can make.
In the spring statement two weeks ago, the Chancellor rightly set out how he is asking the Office for National Statistics to assess how we can better value our human capital. That is crucial, because if things are not valued properly, they are not invested in properly. I hope the Treasury can reform even more to shift its decision making to more overtly invest in a socially mobile Britain. That is not just about smarter valuing of our investment in people, but better measurement of our national progress on social mobility and opportunity. That means having a longer timeframe for investments and budgeting, so that when we invest in children and young people, we see the value that it creates over a lifetime and not just over the next five years. Realistically, five years gives little chance for this sort of investment to be demonstrably realised.
In conclusion, it might feel like a huge ask to change the country forever and deliver on social mobility, which we have never been able to do, but it is about a collective effort. It is about lots of people doing lots of things. I am not asking all of us to do everything. I just need us each to make a change in our local communities, whether as MPs, businesses or individuals. It is a start if Putney businesses improve Putney, and if Rotherham businesses improve Rotherham. If the Government back that up with smart policy at a national level, things can change. Tackling social mobility is complex. It is like a million-piece jigsaw puzzle, but people need to do their piece. If we all do that, the picture gets completed. We need to do that to get more opportunities for more young people, so that we have equality of opportunity. I hope the social mobility pledge can be a step along the road to delivering just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is the greatest pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who is a Rotherham girl. She lives and breathes exactly what she is outlining. Her family background is very common in Rotherham. The fact that she has achieved such incredible heights is genuinely an inspiration to my constituents. It is exactly what we are looking to do. I fully support her social mobility pledge. I urge her to come back to Rotherham so that we can work together to make it happen.
I am particularly proud that a woman is launching the social mobility pledge, and a great deal is owed to the right hon. Lady for her work on this. We have now got cracks in the glass ceiling. Indeed, as she rightly said—I am going to steal her line—a ton of bricks is now falling on the class ceiling. That is something we have to address as a country, not least because this week the Children’s Commissioner highlighted the huge gaps that exist between the poorest children in the north and the poorest in the south. Her report found that a child on free school meals living in Hackney is three times more likely to go to university than a child on free school meals from Hartlepool. London children on free school meals are 40% more likely to achieve good maths and English GSCEs than children in the north. Rotherham, by contrast, ranks 188th out of 324 local authority areas for social mobility and has the seventh highest secondary school exclusion rates in the country. The Children’s Commissioner found that too many children are dropping out of education and training before 18, with several northern cities having more than 10% of children missing out on crucial parts of their education.
The all-party parliamentary group on social mobility recognised that social mobility is improved through education and high-quality teaching, yet its former chair now leads a Department that is cutting school funding by 4.6% between 2015 and 2019. Across England, more than half a million primary school children are in super-sized classes. Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, class sizes in Rotherham rose in more than half of our schools and the pupil to teacher ratio rose in two thirds. Some 57% of schools have cut their staff. While the Government talk of a fairer funding formula, schools in Rotherham will have suffered cuts of nearly £3 million between 2015-16 and 2019-20. I fail to understand how that can help our children reach their potential.
Another issue that we cannot ignore is the economic environment that children live in. I am pleased that the Children’s Commissioner recognised that northern children are proud and optimistic, but her report found that many lacked confidence that economic regeneration will mean more job opportunities for them.
Rotherham ranks 119th out of 650 constituencies on the highest number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit. According to the Office for National Statistics, productivity growth nationally over the past 10 years was the weakest since modern records began. We have some fantastic businesses in Britain. As the right hon. Lady knows, we have fantastic businesses in Rotherham, but there is a serious skills shortage, as she outlined. A recent survey from the British Chambers of Commerce found that skills shortages were reaching critical levels in the last quarter of 2017. How will we address the gap and the lack of productivity if we are not training our young people in the skills needed for a modern economy?
In Rotherham, many businesses are in manufacturing. They recognise—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for securing this debate.
Everybody should be given the opportunity to make the most of their life, irrespective of where they were born. It is equality of opportunity that matters. The Social Mobility Commission report published last year identified hotspots and coldspots, which were areas with higher and lower levels of social mobility. I never considered Knowsley, where I grew up, to be a particularly socially mobile region, but it ranks reasonably well at 171st out of the 325 local authorities in England. What may come as a surprise is that my constituency of Chichester is 287th. Chichester is not unique in that respect, as a quarter of coastal authorities were classified as coldspots, and only 6% were identified as hotspots.
The problems are clear and have been for generations. Tackling the issue is complex, but incredibly important, not only for the young people who gain an opportunity to change their circumstances, but for the economy. In 2016, the Sutton Trust estimated that just reaching Europe’s social mobility average would equate to an annual increase to GDP of 2%. It is key that we bring out people’s talents at all ages. Almost every one of my classmates in my failing comprehensive school in Knowsley had talent and the potential to achieve whatever they put their minds to. Some of us beat the odds despite our school, but others did not get that opportunity. They were let down in school and were not offered enough support or alternative routes into work when they left at just 16. From attending a failing comprehensive school every day for five years, I know there was as much talent there as on the playing fields of Eton.
My social mobility journey came in the form of an apprenticeship that I started at 16, so I know from personal experience the benefits they can provide. It gave me seven years of work experience, a degree and no student debt—all I needed to build a career. It was a business that changed my life, not school. More than 3.4 million young people have started apprenticeships since 2010. Although that is a significant achievement, we must work to ensure that they are high-quality training programmes. I am pleased that we are seeing a greater emphasis on quality, with advanced and higher level apprenticeships up by 35% last year as compared with the previous year.
Colleges, universities and business are developing successful, collaborative relationships. Chichester College has seen more than 25,000 apprentices pass through its doors, and its success continues with increased participation year on year. Some 94% of level 2 apprentices continue into employment or further education. The college has put employability at the heart of its curriculum, and it is working with around 5,000 businesses to do that. At the University of Chichester, 34% of its largely regional intake are from the lowest household income groups, and more than half are the first generation in their family to participate in higher education. The university has increased its numbers and is reaching out to the latent local marketplace.
It is important to remember that even if all those opportunities pass someone by, it is never too late for them to learn and improve their opportunities in life. There are such programmes as “Get into”, which is run by the Prince’s Trust; the “Choose Work” programme that Chichester District Council runs, which is designed to help young people get work experience; and the brilliant work of Business in the Community, which works to give young people CV and interview training and work experience. Many businesses are now involved in Business in the Community.
Different areas have always varied in social mobility outcomes. My life has been what some might call a social mobility success story. The solution to better outcomes for young people is multi-faceted, but we should tap into talent wherever it is to satisfy growing demand and bolster our economy.
I apologise, Mr Davies: I will have to leave the debate a few minutes early to get a ticket for Prime Minister’s Question Time. I thank the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for allowing us to debate this really important issue. I know how committed she was to social mobility when she was Secretary of State for Education.
The right hon. Lady knows that the roots of social mobility start far earlier than a place on work experience. They start from birth, primarily in the first 18 months of a child’s life. By the time a child gets to school, a poor child is 18 months behind its classmates. A poor child—let us call her Jo—is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a well-off peer. She is one of the 50% of children from low income families who do not reach the expected developmental milestones by age five. Because of her low progress by age seven, Jo has just a 50% chance of avoiding the bottom of attainment when she completes her GCSEs almost a decade later. That does not come as a surprise. Her secondary school is also more likely to be disadvantaged, with stark evidence that the top-performing comprehensives prove to be highly socially selective, with only 9.4% of pupils eligible for free school meals in the top-performing 500 comprehensive schools—let us not get started on selective schools—which is far lower than the 17.2% average.
When Jo tries to secure an invaluable internship, she cannot afford the £1,019 a month cost of its being unpaid, and she does not have the high-powered networks that could offer a golden ticket into a business. Meanwhile, Jo is trying to find a home.
Most Members, many from London and the south-east, know that at their advice surgery they will see hundreds of families terrified of losing their private rented accommodation and being placed in temporary accommodation. If someone lives in south-west London, temporary accommodation means Birmingham, Kent or Luton. How does a child continue to go to school if they live so far away in temporary accommodation? How do they have the confidence and security of being able to study if they never know where they and their mum will be able to live or how many brothers and sisters will be in the same bedroom? That is the reality for the many families that we see.
Although confidence and a personal contribution are paramount, we cannot ignore the social system in which many children and young people find themselves. It is not a level playing field, because they are far behind the starting line from the very moment of their birth.
It is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to this debate today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on her excellent speech and on opening the debate on this important topic, which I know she is passionate about. I was honoured to be able to work closely with her as her Whip when she was Secretary of State for Education. I particularly welcome her speech, her approach and the support she has already received from the business sector. I welcome and endorse strongly her social mobility pledge. Partnership, access to work experience, a level playing field and of course open recruiting are vital if we are to go forward and utilise the talent that we have across the whole country.
As a former teacher and lecturer, education and social mobility are particular passions of mine and are areas in which I have always tried to be involved. We are discussing social mobility in Britain to ultimately ensure that everyone has the opportunity to build a good life for themselves, regardless of their family background or the area of the country that they come from. In a socially mobile society, every individual should have a fair chance of reaching their full potential. Social mobility is not only good from a moral perspective, but from an economic perspective. By ensuring that talent is harvested across the social spectrum, we have the opportunity to boost productivity and GDP, more of which later.
I come from a family that grew up in the east end of London. It was education, opportunity, good teachers, family encouragement and also some businesses that allowed me work experience that gave me an appetite to develop. I grew up in Essex, but my family background was in Bow, where opportunities were very limited except through education, so we need to look across the country to make sure that opportunities are greater than currently exist in some places.
I actually enjoyed work experience because it meant I met other people and did other things. I learnt and got into the habit of getting up and getting there on time and participating as far as I could.
The Government have made considerable progress on education and opportunities, with 1.9 million more children now in good or outstanding schools. That is a real achievement and we should not minimise that. We should be proud of what has been done, but we need to do more. Local and central Government cannot do it all. It has to be businesses and communities—all of us—contributing and participating.
We are rather fortunate in my borough of Bexley. We are a hotspot when it comes to these things. We achieve things and I am proud of the opportunities that businesses, the council and Government policies have encouraged, which has resulted in a very good situation, but it is not enough. Even within Bexley there are children who underachieve and do not have ambition. I have always fought hard against people who say, “What can you expect? They come from that background in more deprived parts of the borough.” That is absolute rubbish. Everyone has the potential wherever they come from, and we must realise it and get opportunities for every individual. I had a longer speech, but unfortunately I have not got time to do it.
The Government, of course, have a key role, but when we look at the figures, the “State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain” report found that only 6% of doctors and 12% of chief executives were from working class origins. More has to be done. In conclusion, we need a plan, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney has offered us a good plan that we can all sign up to. It is not party political; it is something for the benefit of this country and I endorse it strongly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett), who made a powerful speech. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on securing this important debate on social mobility and the economy. She made a passionate and practical speech.
People in my community too often feel like social mobility no longer applies to them. I am told time and again by my constituents during my surgeries and on the doorsteps of Barnsley East that the economy is not working for them, and that they are being held back. It is difficult to disagree or to reassure them because they are not entirely wrong. In my constituency and across Barnsley, someone’s postcode still to this day determines their life chances and what they can, or rather cannot, become.
The Social Mobility Foundation has identified that Barnsley sits in the bottom 10% of local authorities in the country on the social mobility index. I am sure that, through her experience of growing up in nearby Rotherham, the right hon. Member for Putney knows the area well, and is at least familiar with the challenges it faces. She will also know that she remains in the minority for those born and raised in south Yorkshire. To put it simply, starting from childhood, life chances in Barnsley are far below those provided elsewhere. As many hon. Members have said, that must change.
A huge percentage of children in Barnsley’s classrooms are eligible for free school meals and come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but fewer than 10% of those children will go on to study at university—one of the lowest rates in the country. That is put into perspective, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) outlined, when compared with, for instance, the 50% of disadvantaged children in Kensington and Chelsea who will go on to higher education. Despite those struggles, Barnsley’s schools have fewer resources to progress.
Once past those struggles in childhood, the economy lags in providing the opportunities for people to get on in life. The mining industry, which helped to shape our community, once provided employment for more than 30,000 people. Although the work was hard and often dangerous, it was secure and well paid. The economic landscape is different now. The largest private sector employers in my constituency are in distribution. Both unemployment and youth unemployment are substantially higher than the national average. The average weekly wage in Barnsley East is a full 10% lower than the UK average. Across the area, many people are trapped in insecure and precarious employment, on short-term or flexible contracts. There is less certainty of work, no guaranteed income, no planning past the next week’s rota, which may change at the last minute, and no economic security to provide food or pay the bills. Such an economy is not conducive to social mobility.
For social mobility in Barnsley, and my constituency of Barnsley East, we desperately need an inclusive economy that provides the security of wages, and the opportunities that people have missed out on for too long. We need secure, long-term employment with a guaranteed income that allows people to plan, save and look further than the next pay packet. Most of all, we need an economy that works for people in Barnsley, that allows workers to advance and progress; that allows children to aspire and achieve; and that provides the opportunities and conditions for genuine social mobility, which has evaded our community for too long.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on introducing the debate, and I thank you, Mr Davies, for giving dispensation for members of the Public Accounts Committee to leave a few minutes before the end.
Social mobility is key. Given that the United Kingdom is one of the most immobile countries in the OECD, social mobility is not just desirable but essential for sustainable economic growth. When I go into schools and community groups in my constituency, people do not want platitudes or soundbites, but action and opportunities that matter to them and give them a way to progress.
My right hon. Friend mentioned education. There are educational challenges across the United Kingdom. In Scotland, our educational standards in maths, science and other key STEM subjects are falling behind in the programme for international student assessment rankings. Scotland used to be No. 1 in the United Kingdom for education; it is now No. 3, which is a worrying trend. A teacher shortage means that a £15 million fund for the underprivileged has gone unspent. We learned earlier this month that, due to the teacher shortage, we have not had the resources to spend that money, which had been put aside to help those from the most deprived backgrounds.
As my right hon. Friend mentioned, we are seeing a disturbing trend of fewer people from deprived backgrounds making it to university from some parts of the United Kingdom than from others. Even more worryingly, in my constituency in Scotland we are not increasing social mobility, but decreasing it. That is happening against a backdrop of increasing employment, and a slight improvement on the Gini coefficient pretty much right across the United Kingdom. Despite that, we are still not giving people real opportunities early on in life so that they can pole-vault forward.
Many good points have been made in today’s debate—I will not repeat them—but I will focus on social capital and lifelong learning on top of the broader educational point that other Members have made. Social capital is a topic that was spoken about at the turn of the century, certainly in universities and academic institutions, in discussing communities that had gone through post-industrialisation and no longer had the bridging and bonding capital that made many communities in the western world such successes. That capital enabled people to go from place to place and to step up, and ensured that the next generation was always better off than the previous one.
It is not just about the fact that students are leaving school with poorer highers or GCSEs; it is about what comes after that. Even if a mistake has been made or an opportunity has not been provided early on, people must be given a second or even a third opportunity later in life. It is important that we do not allow poor GCSEs or poor highers to write someone off early, as is so often the case in this country.
I am lucky that in my constituency we have Forth Valley College, which is a further education college that tries to promote lifelong learning, whether in the form of evening classes, working in partnership with businesses, going for apprenticeships, or working with public bodies. It is important that we provide that opportunity throughout people’s lives. I give credit to the Labour party for one of their policies in the last election: funding people through lifelong learning, and giving people access to funds to go back to college, and do different types of qualifications at any stage of their life. People are now living into their 80s and 90s, which is not what our original welfare system was designed for. We need to ask ourselves how we can give people the opportunity to have two, three or perhaps even four careers in their lifetime, as some hon. Members may well have had.
I am conscious of time, but I want to address on a more practical level what we can do in our constituencies as MPs. In my constituency, we are fortunate enough to have two city deals coming: the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal, and the Tay Cities deal. I have been speaking to representatives from the Prince’s Trust to ensure that those city deals do not just bring financial investment and physical assets into our constituency, but improve social and human capital. I am working with those organisations, and with communities, to ensure that, when we talk about investment, we do so in the broadest possible terms. It is not just about road, rail and wires, but about the social capital and the bonding and bridging capital that allows our communities to come together, and allows people to leap through different communities because they can go as far as their abilities allow them.
Social mobility is one of the key reasons I stood for election to this place. I believe it is incumbent on us as MPs that, when someone has had a door closed in their face, we always open a window to give them an opportunity to succeed, whatever stage of their life they are in.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on an excellent speech. It is clear from her time as Secretary of State for Education that she had a desire to advance social mobility, and it is shame that she is no longer in that position.
When I saw this debate on the Order Paper, I welcomed the opportunity to take part in it. I am conscious that, as somebody who was born to a single parent, and who grew up on a council estate in Glasgow and left school at 16, I am probably the exception to the rule in terms of having got to the House of Commons, given my class and the people I went to school with. I grew up in the shadow of the Cranhill water tower, and I now work in the shadow of Big Ben. It is important that we have come to speak in this debate, and that we do not pull the ladder up behind us.
I do not want to get into an egg-throwing match on education with my colleagues from Scotland in the Conservative party, because I think it has been a constructive debate. We can do more on education. My wife is a primary schoolteacher, so it is not an alien concept to me. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) did not mention that the Scottish Government are investing in the pupil equity fund. I see that in my constituency, with organisations such as Beacon Warriors and Licketyspit doing work in schools. As I say, I do not want to make that a party political point.
One area that I will focus on today is internships, but before I do, I will address the issue of apprenticeships. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who is a fellow former modern apprentice. It is important that we put more emphasis in this place on modern apprenticeships. I am glad that we have invested in apprenticeships north of the border. Politicians are beginning to understand that we cannot just have a factory churning out people who go through primary and secondary education, go to university, and then get their masters. In order to have a diverse economy, it is important that we invest in apprenticeships. I make the plea that I always make, which is for pay equality for young people. Unfortunately, at the moment under-25s are excluded from the national living wage, and apprentices under UK law can still be paid as little as £3.50 per hour. If we are serious about building a country that works for everyone, we have to pay people appropriately.
The main thing I want to speak about is internships. I had the fortune to undertake a political internship a number of years ago. It was unpaid, and there is a wider debate that we could have about such internships. However, at this time of year when we, as MPs, are looking at our staffing budgets, this debate challenged me to think about what I am doing as a Member of Parliament to bring through the next generation of politicians—not people who studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at university, but people from different backgrounds. That is why I am very pleased to be advertising a paid internship. It is called the John Wheatley internship in recognition of a Labour MP for east Glasgow in the 1920s who came to Parliament and did an immense amount of good on housing.
There is a challenge to us as politicians to ensure that, when we take people on in our offices, we pay them appropriately. If we are serious about getting people into politics and serious about our offices representing our communities, we cannot just take people from the local university societies.
Working with the local college, Barnsley College, I have a living wage apprentice in my office. My apprentice, Adam, works in my office and then spends some of his time studying. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be good to encourage Members across the House to have political internships and apprenticeships both in Westminster and in the constituency?
Absolutely. I genuinely and warmly commend the hon. Lady for having an apprentice who she pays the national living wage. This is a subject very close to my heart, and the leadership she is showing is to be commended—others in the House should certainly be doing so. The issue of internships is something we have to grapple with. We know that a number of offices have unpaid internships—I am sure some of my colleagues have people on unpaid internships—but if we are serious about getting people from different backgrounds involved in politics, we need to show leadership.
On social tourism, I get quite annoyed at The Guardian for continuing to use the same photograph of run-down flats that were demolished about 10 years ago, but it is fairly well known that Glasgow East is not exactly the richest part of the world. In my constituency, the headteacher at Sandaig Primary is open about the fact that some of the children who go there have never seen sand. One of the ways we can take people from different backgrounds and show them different things is through the concept of social tourism. I commend the Family Holiday Association. Getting people into different environments and out of their comfort zone is hugely important.
This has been a very good debate, although it is a shame that it was only 90 minutes. There is definitely the appetite from Members for a Backbench Business Committee debate. I urge the right hon. Member for Putney to continue. I think she will find cross-party support.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on securing this important debate.
It is a pleasure to follow colleagues who have spoken so eloquently on this critical subject. In a similar way to other Members, I come at it from my experience and my life’s journey. I attended a comprehensive school in a normal part of the west midlands, and I now find myself in this place. What a great privilege that is, but it is incumbent on all of us to continue the fight. My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney is setting out a marker and providing great leadership, which I am delighted to be able to follow, on the practical work that we can all do in our constituencies. I very much come at the issue from a place-based perspective.
Statistics from the Social Mobility Commission show that Britain is divided and that a child’s prospects are affected not only by how much their parents earn and their ethnicity but by geography. The west midlands is particularly poor in social mobility, as I saw as an employer in Birmingham before I came into this place. I saw a lack of aspiration and a social mobility divide in practice in that city.
To tackle that, I set up my own charity, Skilled and Ready. We were instrumental in bringing together local employers to create an awards programme that was delivered in local schools, to help students recognise and develop employability skills. I am very proud that that delivered change for the young people who went through the programme.
When I became an MP, I was mindful of the fact that our area is behind in social mobility indicators. More than a third of areas in the west midlands are social mobility coldspots, and that unfortunately includes my constituency of Redditch. I started to engage as a priority with schools, colleges and businesses in the constituency, and it became clear to me that there is deprivation on a number of indicators, which other hon. Members have referred to. There is also the issue of aspiration. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney, I firmly believe that, while the Government have a role to play, businesses do too. They are instrumental. I welcome this debate because it identifies some practical things that we can all do.
I am working with the Mayor’s mentor scheme, set up by the current Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, to create a Redditch mentors programme. I pay tribute to the schools that have already signed up—Heart of Worcestershire College, Tudor Grange Academy, Trinity High School, Ridgeway High School and Arrow Vale. Some fantastic businesses have also indicated their support, including Simon Hyde from Faun Zoeller, Julie Dyer from Heller, Darren Houlcroft, Keith Gardner from MSP and Nicola Hall from Bellis Training. They have all signed up and committed to becoming mentors for local schools in my constituency. I thank them most sincerely for what they are doing. It is a fantastic commitment and investment of their time to help young people in Redditch.
I very much welcome the initiative that my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney has laid out in her social mobility pledge. I will be taking that on board and encouraging the pioneering businesses in Redditch that have already committed to this agenda to follow that lead and to add their names to the campaign.
I have been inspired by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and the hon. Member for Glasgow East to think about what more I can do as a Member of Parliament, because we have a unique opportunity to spread the message about how important this work is.
I do not believe that maintaining the status quo is an option. It is not fit for purpose. The issue of social mobility is not just about creating a fairer and equal society. It is about addressing social, educational and economic divisions, which are unsustainable and are having a detrimental impact on our labour market and our competitiveness as a country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies. I commend the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for holding this debate on an important topic. One thing she said that rang true with me was that when she started out, she was not asking for special treatment, she just wanted the same opportunities as everyone else. That is such an important point to make. She spoke of the significant gains to the economy from nurturing its talent and the part that businesses have to play in that. That is crucial as well. She also set out some interesting proposals that might address that, along with her pledge, and made some points about blind and contextual CVs. As she said, we all have our part to play. She spoke of a million-piece jigsaw puzzle, which is a good image for us to take away. We should all play our part in trying to make social mobility possible for our young people and others throughout society.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) spoke of the importance of economic regeneration and the part that that plays in social mobility. She highlighted this Government’s cuts to school funding and talked of the gaps in productivity, and asked how training can be provided urgently to fill those gaps.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) shared her personal experiences with us. I always find such points very interesting. She spoke at length of the benefit of apprenticeships, but stressed the importance of them being high-value apprenticeships, which is another good point.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) gave a passionate speech. She spoke of poor accommodation, poor schooling and the social systems that put children “far behind the starting line” before they even start. That is a very good point indeed. She spoke of the effect on young people’s confidence and feelings of security, and the longer term impact on them.
The right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett) also spoke of personal experiences and how the opportunities he received helped him along his way. He called for everyone to receive the same opportunities. He made one point that really startled me: that only 6% of doctors come from working-class backgrounds. That is an extraordinary and sobering point.
The hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) pointed out that less than 10% of young people in her constituency will go on to university. She suggested that what was needed was an inclusive economy with secure employment that allows for future planning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), in a very fine speech, also talked about the importance of investing in apprenticeships and of fair pay for those apprenticeships, and about what he is doing personally as a politician with the internship scheme in his office. That is a great example to set. He also spoke of how social tourism can help in taking children away from their day-to-day environment and exposing them to different experiences.
In preparation for this debate, I turned to the “State of the Nation” report with interest, anticipating a thoroughly good read. The chapter on Scotland and Wales—neither nation got its own chapter, unfortunately— pointed out right at the start that the data available for Scotland does not measure social mobility, nor does the data for Wales. It seems that that is because successive Scottish Administrations have concentrated on alleviating poverty rather than measuring social mobility. Of course, alleviating poverty is not easy if the Government are hellbent on cutting social security payments and limiting the funds available to the most vulnerable members of society for ideological reasons. So we find ourselves discussing England and its problems again. The Social Mobility Commission’s “Time for change” report was clear that two decades of chasing higher social mobility have made no difference. Fervent ministerial announcements turn out not to deliver results—who would have thought it?
It is important to acknowledge that when the right hon. Member for Putney was in office she put in place a plan for addressing some educational inequalities, and it appears to have been well received. I admit that I have not read it because it concentrates on English education, but I was intrigued to see that it followed the Scottish Government down the path of addressing the attainment gap. That is a very good thing and is to be encouraged. I hope the Minister will indicate whether that plan will be implemented.
As many, many people tell us at great length, education is one of the great levellers. It is key to ensuring that talent rises and talented people are rewarded. How education is paid for is equally important. I was intrigued by the recent publication of evidence from Robert Plomin and Emily Smith-Woolley of King’s College, which showed that selective schools add next to no benefit to education. Funnily enough, the “Freakonomics” economist Steven Levitt found the same thing in Chicago.
The real inhibitor of social mobility in education comes when a young adult leaves tertiary education. The burden of student loans that graduates carry is substantial. I think I am correct in calculating that an English student studying in London for three years could leave with more than £60,000 of debt. For someone from a less affluent background who secures employment in a graduate entry-level job, that debt will stay with them for years.
Setting aside the discourtesy of not being mentioned in the hon. Lady’s summation—I am a Scottish Conservative colleague, but that is fine—on tuition fees, perhaps she can advise her colleagues in Edinburgh truly to lead the way and not charge tuition fees to English, Welsh and Irish students, who are great friends in our one United Kingdom.
That point has been made many times by the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, and he has heard the very good reasons why that is not happening. He wants me to mention his contribution, but I find it difficult to get past the fact that, once again, the Scottish Tories talked down the Scottish education system. It is a constant disappointment that every time they mention Scottish education in this place, they do nothing but complain about the work that is being done there. Some fantastic work is going on in Scottish education at the moment, and it would be lovely to hear the Scottish Tories occasionally acknowledge that.
Does my hon. Friend share my bemusement about the fact that the Scottish Tories who are left in this debate—two thirds of them have left the Chamber—continue to harp on about investing in education, yet they rail against any increases in income tax for higher earners in Scotland? The options are either to increase income tax or to cut public spending, which would mean cuts to education. Does she agree that the position of the Conservative party in Scotland seems ridiculous?
Indeed. I agree with my hon. Friend. It is difficult to see exactly where the Scottish Tories are coming from on this—they are so confused.
For someone from a less affluent background who secures employment in a graduate entry-level job, that debt will stay with them for years. That is if they even manage to get what we once would have considered a graduate job. One in 20 graduates do not find any work at all, and the destinations of others is often less than optimal.
During the time that graduates carry that debt, they have less disposable income, their contribution to the economy is lessened, they find it more difficult to get on to the property ladder, decisions about starting a family are made more difficult, and their career decisions are limited. When they have children, that disadvantage is passed on, because they will not have advanced as far in life as they might have done if they did not have to carry that debt. It might be advisable for anyone who believes in improving social mobility to look at removing or alleviating that debt. Abolishing tuition fees would be a start.
To digress a little, I recommend that Members read the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s paper on migration and social mobility from 2005, which suggests that immigration encourages social mobility in the UK. That is on top of what we know already.
If I could take the hon. Lady to my constituency, I would take her to homes where there is not a stick of furniture. In those homes are Tamil and African families, whose children are the doctors, lawyers and engineers of tomorrow. Social mobility is an issue of class and ethnicity. That is difficult for us to talk about, but in London we certainly need to talk about it.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I think we would all agree that we have heard some excellent contributions today from both sides of the Chamber. I thank the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for securing this debate. She knows that I have a very high regard for her, and that I think she is a real loss to the Government. I agree with much of what she said. In her creditable time as Secretary of State for Education, she set out a genuinely engaged geographical disadvantage agenda, for which the former social mobility commissioners argued. She deserves our thanks for moving the debate forward in that way.
I have been in my job for only a few short weeks, and I will admit that this debate is a little early for me, but it gives me an opportunity to say a little about where our work on social mobility is going. This week, the Children’s Commissioner for England released a report called “Growing up North”. She argued that regional development plans, such as the northern powerhouse, must consider necessary infrastructure such as good schools and appropriate post-16 routes to be just as important as rail and roads. I want to quote what she said, because it expresses a broader truth about social mobility:
“Children growing up in the North love and are proud of the place they live. They want a future where they live near their family and community and they want jobs and opportunities to rival anywhere else in the country.”
She is right. For too long, in too many places, social mobility has meant literally moving away. It is a hard truth, but if young people do not have the opportunity to realise their potential in their home towns, many will go away to university or find jobs elsewhere, and will stay away. We do not have an economy that works for all parts of our country. We force people to move out of their communities, because the basic infrastructure to enable economic growth is lacking in our regions.
I very much agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. As a representative of a midlands constituency, I have personally seen that exact pattern. Does she agree the Government could look at further devolving spending on further education, higher education and apprenticeships to local areas to address those challenges?
Talking about the education brief is a bit beyond me this morning. I am sure the hon. Lady will understand if I just duck that and move on. I think honesty is always the best policy.
As this is a Treasury debate, I will start with a bit of Treasury stuff. May I gently say that the Government’s record on the economy, and certainly on social mobility, is not at all good? Average pay is still £15 a week lower in real terms than it was before the financial crisis. Not long ago, the Government confidently predicted a minimum wage of £9 an hour by 2020, but downgrades to economic forecasts have taken their toll, and the Office for Budget Responsibility now expects it to be just £8.57. A real living wage—one based on what people actually need to live—is already higher than that. Planned statutory wage increases will not meet the burden of rising living costs. Two thirds of the children living in poverty today have parents in work.
I know this has been said before, but it is true nevertheless. In the 20th century a contract was understood in this country: each generation was better educated, and had higher incomes, greater home ownership and a longer, healthier life than the previous generation. Even if working class kids—I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Putney for introducing class into the debate—did not succeed educationally, they could still expect higher incomes than their parents, and the dream of home ownership coming into reach. That is clearly no longer the case.
The housing crisis is now one of the biggest barriers to social mobility in our big cities. My borough of Newham is ranked second worst of all local authorities in England and Wales for adult social mobility indicators, a consequence of low pay, high living costs and insecure rented housing. The most recent quarterly statistics show, for the sixth time running, an increase in the number of households in England living in temporary accommodation and, since the end of 2010, a 75% increase in the number of children living in temporary accommodation to 120,000. Hon. Members know what a problem that is: a safe, warm, healthy and secure home is so important to childhood.
I was privileged to live in a council flat in east London.
It provided my family with an affordable home, and we were secure in the knowledge that if we were responsible tenants who paid their rent, it was a forever home. That security provided me with the space to learn, thrive and strive, to do as well as I could. My little sister has massively achieved and is a well-respected solicitor, and I am in this House. We could not have done that without the security of an affordable property behind us. Today, far too few of my constituents have that benefit. They live in private, insecure and expensive tenancies, with their children forced to move schools often or to travel long distances for their education. Such conditions make it so much more difficult for them to fulfil their potential.
I realise now that the hon. Lady was just getting into her flight there. The whole issue of housing is something that we have not explored in the context of social mobility. I am very conscious that in the past few years in Scotland we have abolished the right to buy. That seems to be a major issue. Governments will build social housing, council housing, but it is then sold off. Does she agree with me that it is time in England for Governments and parties of all colours to look at abolishing the right to buy, just as the Labour Government are doing in Wales?
I am going to duck that one.
Studies at Harvard University show that growing up with the toxic stress of economic hardship in the family can be severely damaging for a child, and they conclude that it has life-long effects similar to those caused by parental drug abuse or exposure to violence in the home.
I have been in this job for a few short weeks. One of the things exercising me is the very notion of social mobility itself. I am not sure that it is the right concept, and perhaps the Education Committee is on to something with its report that stated that we need a broader concept such as social justice. I fear that the concept of social mobility can be used to promote what I call a grammar school society, where a few of us can get on but most cannot, where the few of us that succeed are held up as a beacon of equal opportunity, whereas in fact those lucky few are a testament to hard work, yes, but often quite a bit of luck, frankly. A society where a few kids from deprived families get to the Cabinet table but the vast majority face daily hardship is simply not an opportunity society.
I know that the hon. Lady is very passionate because I have worked with her on many campaigns in the past, but would she endorse today’s pledge? What she is saying might be a debate for another day, but today we are trying to get bipartisan agreement on the pledge so that we can go forward on that front.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will work with anyone in order to improve social mobility in our country, because it is something I am absolutely passionate about.
Many of us will have seen the new research from Durham University confirming that grammar school pupils do better because they are more likely to have social advantages, not because selective education is superior. If we are to have a just society, a society in which all our talent and hard work allow us to fulfil our potential, we need to have a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to tackling today’s challenges. We cannot be satisfied with a few token programmes to help a small number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds into institutions and professions that are as dominated by privilege as ever. We cannot pretend that a few programmes amount to a strategy.
Social mobility, social inclusion or social justice are not just about school attainment and university access; as we have talked about today, unfairness persists into the workplace even for university graduates. Graduates with rich parents can earn as much as 60% more than those who have lived with the disadvantages of poverty. The gap is smaller for graduates from the most prestigious universities but, as we know, those institutions have the least inclusive intakes.
What about those who do not go to university? Where are the essential high-grade apprenticeships that this country needs, ones that mean we can be equally proud of the graduates of apprenticeships as of academia? Do we not need to challenge the bias that pervades post-16 education and learning so as to secure social mobility and inclusion to provide the skills base that this country needs for the 21st century?
Any social inclusion, social justice or social mobility policy must address increasing wealth inequality. It must also address the shocking gap in productivity and economic opportunities between our global cities and our smaller towns and coastal and rural communities which have been held back by our existing economic model. As a society, we cannot afford to continue with an economic model that promotes a minority of our people while the rest are denied investment. Labour is determined to embed greater equality, wider opportunity and shared prosperity right across the country. Shared prosperity is our goal—to coin a phrase—to create a society for the many and not the few.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Davies.
May I say how grateful we all are that my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) secured this debate? She has done so on the back of an outstanding record in government, including at the highest level. She brings to our debates a burning strength within her as to the importance of social mobility.
During this debate a number of Members have referred to their backgrounds, which have informed in many ways the views they have reached on social mobility and their desire to do something about it. My parents left school at the ages of 15 and 14 because of economic hardship, and the thought of them ever having become a doctor or a scientist, or even having gone to university, is about as fanciful as any one of us stepping on the surface of the moon. It would have been entirely and utterly impossible. My great break in life was when I got a free place at the grammar school, and I took that opportunity and never looked back. I therefore share with many of those present the burning drive to do something about the issues that we have discussed.
We can all agree that far. The question is, how do we approach these issues? As has been evident in the debate, many different strands are involved. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) mentioned housing, for example, which is one component. There are of course many other components, but I will focus on a couple of key areas, if I may, because they relate to the worthy and outstanding initiative launched today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney: educational skills, and the economy and business.
We should not overlook the progress we have made, in particular on education and skills, some of it on my right hon. Friend’s watch. We now have 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools than we had in 2010, and a record number of young people in education and training. We have more disabled and disadvantaged young people going to university than at any time in our history. We have driven up standards right across the piece. There is no point in getting people into education and training unless we give them good education and training that will be useful to get them work in future. We are achieving that: the EBacc is driving up standards and we have opened up access, particularly in the case of our great universities.
We recognise that we need to do more, so we recently invested £72 million in the 12 opportunity areas across the country, with £50 million allocated to early language and literature skills and £250 million to technical education. We have delivered £406 million for education and skills within the industrial strategy, particularly focusing on maths, digital skills and technology. My right hon. Friend mentioned apprenticeships and T-levels; there have been 3 million new apprenticeship starts since 2010 and 1.2 million since 2005.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) mentioned the importance of not writing people off early in their career and the idea of lifelong learning. We are launching our national retraining scheme to ensure that we have upskilling at the centre of our offer. He mentioned the economy, and there is no doubt that providing a strong economy and employment is the best way to get people moving up in society and, in particular, avoiding poverty.
There are a lot of things I would like to comment on, but the Minister mentions the economy; is it not true that we live in a world where if someone is born into a family that has assets, they are almost certain to succeed in life, but if they are talent-rich but asset-poor they are not? What will the Minister do to restructure the economy so that those born into families who do not own property and do not have savings have a much better chance of success?
On the specific issue of wealth, the hon. Gentleman will find that income inequality is at its lowest level for about 30 years. If he looks at the tax system, which includes property and assets, as he will know, the top 1% of earners in this country pay 28% of income tax. He will know that the national living wage is being increased by 4.4% as of this month with the start of a new tax year, and he will know that the very lowest-paid in our country have had a real-terms pay increase of 7% since 2015. I hope Members will recognise that the Government are on the side of the poorest in our society and are actively engaged in dealing with those issues.
The hon. Gentleman and I have been in several debates where he has raised exactly that point time after time, and I am grateful to him for raising it again. There is an element of affordability to that; there is also the fact that there is a minimum wage, which we are increasing through time, for those who are under 25. We have been able to provide the above-inflation increase to the national living wage because our stewardship of the economy has allowed us to. The problem with some of the prescriptions that we hear is that they are big on spending and borrowing money and increasing taxation, and I am afraid that is just not a recipe for being able to make the kind of progress on the national living wage that this Government have been making.
I will move on to the overall economic progress that we have made as a Government. We have a near record level of employment in our country; we have more women in work than at any time in our history; and we have virtually the lowest level of unemployment for 45 years—youth unemployment is down by 40% since 2010. We have had five years of continuous growth, and the deficit and the debt are both falling.
I recognise the things that the Minister mentions, and of course they are to be welcomed, but we are talking about young people’s aspiration not just to get a part-time job in the corner shop but to become an MP, a judge or a surgeon. Surely that is what we are lacking, and that is why I hope he supports the pledge of the right hon. Member for Putney.
I do not disagree with the hon. Lady, but my point is that unless there is a successful economy, with jobs, growth and all the things that this Government are delivering, it becomes more and more difficult to provide social mobility. This Government are providing all the things that I have outlined, and that is driving social mobility.
The way that the economy is managed has an important impact on poverty, which, as we know, is one of the greatest evils that hold people back. Since 2010 we have a million fewer people in absolute low income—a record low. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) raised the issue of child poverty; we have 300,000 fewer children in absolute low income. There are 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute income poverty and 500,000 fewer adults of working age in absolute low income since 2010. In fact, of the 28 EU member states, our country has the fifth lowest level of persistent poverty. That is not the same as saying that where we are is acceptable or that we do not have to do more, but we should recognise that progress is being made.
Doing more is right at the heart of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney suggests. The Government warmly welcome her initiative; she rightly said that a lack of social mobility leads to talent going to waste. I totally endorse that. She referred to the important link between productivity and social mobility, a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) also raised. It is a simple fact that living standards can increase dramatically if we get productivity right. In fact, if we had the same level of productivity in our country as there is in Germany, our economy would be 30% larger than it is. I am wholeheartedly with her on that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney also raised the issue of Brexit and talked about the freedoms that will come with it as a moment for change. That was an apposite and far-sighted point to make. She urged companies to engage in her social mobility pledge, focusing on partnerships with schools and work experience. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett) spoke passionately about his work experience when he was a younger man—or should I say an even younger man—than he is today.
On companies’ recruitment practices, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney raised the issue of name-blind applications and the work that Clifford Chance has done, as well as the contextual recruitment carried out by Deloitte, Linklaters and others, which takes into account applicants’ backgrounds as well as the contents of their curriculum vitae. If I may paraphrase her, it is a case of employers being blind to everything but someone’s suitability to do the job. We can all unite around that. She also raised the important matter of degree apprenticeships and made an interesting point about how the apprenticeship levy is used and whether it could be directed in ways that may be more helpful to the issues that we are debating.
My right hon. Friend raised the important point of how we measure social mobility and human capital. Personally, I think that is an area that would be worthy of greater attention. I do not believe that the Office for National Statistics or any other such bodies produce such statistics, and it may well be worth us looking at that more closely. She raised the importance of working with others, such as companies in our constituencies and organisations such as the CBI, the FSB and the others that she has already brought on board, for which I give her huge credit.
It may be impossible to discuss such a deep and important issue as social mobility without being partisan, and almost inevitably there have been elements of partisanship in the debate. But my right hon. Friend should be congratulated on at least uniting us in spirit on an issue that we are all determined to confront. She left us with a powerful legacy from her time as Secretary of State for Education. I have a feeling that there is far more to come from her; that she is far from finished in her drive for a fairer and better world, with social mobility beating alive, loud and whole at its heart, and I thank her for bringing forward this debate.
I simply want to finish the debate by thanking all hon. Members who have taken the time to contribute. For me, social mobility is something that we have never had in this country; it is not about this Government or the one before. It is a structural deficit on opportunity that has persisted for decades and we need to recognise that. The sooner we realise that we need to raise our sights and work cross-party on this, while reserving the right to have a debate on resourcing and policy, the better, because one of the reasons things do not change is that there is not enough longevity to our approach.
I hope that over the coming months and years, we can really improve the evidence base on this issue, because the more that can inform our policy, the more successful we will be.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6).