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Armed Forces: Social Mobility

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

23. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of social mobility in the armed forces. (900558)

The armed forces aim to attract talent from the widest possible base across the United Kingdom, regardless of socioeconomic background, educational status or ethnicity. The skills, education and training provided enable recruits to progress and benefit from promotion based on merit.

The Minister will be aware that the armed forces recruit heavily in areas such as mine in Hull. However, a recent Sutton Trust report showed that people from private schools are seven times more likely to reach the top of the armed forces. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that there is equality of opportunity for all and that our talented people starting on the lowest rungs get the same chance to reach the top?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. For me, the military remains the single fastest accelerant of life chances in this country for those from slightly more challenging backgrounds. The figure she refers to regarding public school and reaching the top is a challenge that has been there for a while, but our figures for Sandhurst are now very different from what they were 10 years ago. Certainly, in my experience and the experience of many of my colleagues, socioeconomic background has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s ability to prevail in the military.

With the cost of university going up, many would-be graduates will look at the armed forces as an alternative career path. However, it is still extremely difficult for someone to gain a commission if they do not have a university degree, particularly an Oxbridge degree, with 18% of commissioned officers having an Oxbridge degree. How will the Minister change things to ensure that people who go into the forces without a degree can gain a commission in future?

I and many of my colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence, did not have a degree. The military has been more accessible than ever before for people without a degree. This is something we consistently work on. However, I come back to my point: every applicant is judged on what they can bring and add to the organisation of the UK armed forces, irrespective of their background and conscious of the fact that we must always do more to make sure that it is equal.

A constituent of mine was serving in a UK base in Cyprus and his children have special educational needs. The school is operated by the Ministry of Defence, which was unable to offer them adequate support. They therefore had to relocate back to the UK. Will my hon. Friend work with his Department to make sure that children of our brave armed forces have the support they need and that those serving have all the instruments needed to progress their careers?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I have a specific team within the MOD dedicated to SEND children. I am more than happy to look at her case. We are bringing in legislation for the armed forces covenant. The Prime Minister is absolutely clear that no one should suffer any disadvantage as a result of their military service. That will become law during this Parliament and we will see fewer of these cases going forward.