Call to improve social mobility

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The UK could become a “permanently divided nation” unless political leaders commit to measures to reduce poverty and improve social mobility, a major report has found.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found there was already a postcode lottery, with some parts of the country faring far worse than others in offering educational and employment opportunities.

The commissioners warned that it would be a “mistake of catastrophic proportions” if the occupant of 10 Downing Street after May’s election failed to address the issue.

An analysis of social mobility in England found “cold spots” in the East of England around the Wash, coastal areas in the South East and former industrial zones in the North and Midlands.

The area around the Wash was largely due to “very low educational attainment” and jobs which were more likely to be lower-skilled and lower-paid than other parts of England.

The coastal areas in the South East also suffered from poor educational attainment, the report found.

London was a social mobility “hot spot” because high educational attainment levels and a buoyant labour market have offset high rates of child poverty.

In a joint foreword to the report, chairman Alan Milburn, a Labour former cabinet minister and Baroness Shephard, his Conservative deputy and former education secretary, warned “there is a postcode lottery in social mobility”.

The report said that, despite the “unprecedented fiscal constraints of recent years” the commitment from politicians to reduce poverty and improve mobility “has remained undiminished”.

But “it is obvious that the progress that has been made has been too limited and too slow” and “the significant challenge of matching the economic recovery with a social recovery has not yet been overcome”.

In a message to all parties to put the issue at the centre of their pitch to voters, they warned: “Without a new approach the risk is that Britain becomes a permanently divided nation as Britain’s fiscal deficit and deep-seated changes in the labour and housing markets coalesce to make social mobility harder, not easier.”

They said that “rather than facing up to the possibility of a divided nation, politicians of all parties have ducked the challenge” of setting out how they would reduce inequality.

“There is a real risk that the enormous fiscal challenges facing the next government will persuade whoever is in 10 Downing Street after May to consign progress on mobility and poverty to the ‘too difficult’ pile.

“We believe that this would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions.”

The report warned that the “credit crunch generation” born after 2008’s economic crash could be the first in more than 50 years to see their “prospects for social progress actually going backwards”.

The commission called for politicians to redeploy public spending so they were “maximising the social mobility bang for the buck”.

The report said the country must restart the “twin engines of social mobility” – education and housing – and realign policy on the working poor.

The commissioners called for a refocus on opening up the top of “elitist” British society to people from all walks of life.

Only 7% of children attend private schools, yet 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior military officers, 55% of Whitehall permanent secretaries, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of the House of Lords, 36% of the Cabinet and 22% of the shadow cabinet are privately educated.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Even in difficult economic times, I have made it one of my top priorities in government to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to succeed in life, whatever the circumstances of their birth.

“I completely agree with the commission that whoever is in government in the next parliament must keep social mobility at the top of the agenda. I guarantee that any government of which I am a part will.

“The coalition Government has done a number of things to improve social mobility in this country, such as introducing the pupil premium which is narrowing the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.

“I am proud that we have also lifted millions of people on low pay out of paying any income tax at all but I know there is much more to do and I look forward to working with the Commission and others in the future in our ongoing efforts to create a fairer society where there is opportunity for everyone.”

Viv Bird, chief executive of reading charity Booktrust, said: “If we want to deliver on social mobility, we must get our children and young people reading more often and more widely to develop the skills needed to do well at school and get better jobs.

“Building the foundations of reading early is crucial. That’s why we urge parents and carers to make a pledge to read to their children for 10 minutes a day and give them the best start in life.

“Research shows that if children are read to from an early age they score higher at school and read and write better, whatever their background. Reading daily to a child can see them almost 12 months ahead of peers when they start school.”

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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