Monday, 16 August 2010

Social Mobility Matters And Alan Milburn's Appointment Should Be Welcomed

In the short term, the Government will be judged by successfully dealing with the catastrophic financial situation left behind by its predecessor.  In the long term, the Government will be judged on making Britain a more socially mobile and open society.

Social mobility matters.

It matters that so many people are not fulfilling their potential or aspirations.

It matters that life chances are more likely to be decided at birth than at any time since the 1920s.

It matters that, although only 7% of children go to private school, such schools account for almost 80% of judges, 70% of finance directors and barristers; 55% of Tory MPs; and over 50% of top journalists.

That is why the appointment of Alan Milburn as social mobility ‘czar’ is to be welcomed.  At the moment, after 13 years of a Government that promised so much but delivered so little, Britain one of the least socially mobile countries in the world and less mobile than at any time since the war.

The report of the cross party commission (which I praised at the time) headed up by Alan Milburn for the last Government was a devastating indictment of the previous Government’s failure to act on the issue.  It said that, “access to the professions is becoming the preserve of a smaller and smaller part of the social spectrum.”  

This is something that a highly talented man such as Alan Milburn feels strongly about and it is only to be applauded that he will be avoiding the tribal taunts of members of the opposition about the fact he wants to do all that he can to help improve the life chances of the poorest.

Social mobility is also something I care deeply about.  I went to a North Eastern comprehensive school (probably of the kind that Tony Blair would have derided as ‘bog standard’).  I saw so many exceptional people who were let down by the system and didn’t always achieve their potential.

There are some people who suggest that an attachment to enhancing social mobility is ‘un-Conservative’.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  It wasn’t un-Conservative when Churchill talked of creating a floor below which none could fall and a sky through which all could rise.

What is more Conservative than ensuring that each and every human being is able to fulfil their potential.    What can be more Conservative than raising people’s aspirations? A modern economy needs highly skilled people to prosper.  What can be more wasteful than seeing so many people not fulfilling their potential?

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