Inequality will remain entrenched in Britain “from birth to work” without urgent government action, the body charged with promoting social mobility has said.
In its latest State Of The Nation report, the Social Mobility Commission said the situation had remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014. It called on ministers to provide additional funding for older teenagers in education and to extend free childcare to more low-income families, in an effort to break down barriers.
The findings will come as a further setback to Theresa May, who entered Downing Street in 2016 promising to tackle the “burning injustice” of social inequality.
The report is the first since new commissioners were appointed last year after the mass resignation of their predecessors, led by the former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn. In his resignation letter, he said May was failing in her pledge to build a fairer Britain.
The report by the new team found that those from better-off backgrounds were almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working-class peers. It said the numbers from professional backgrounds who were in professional jobs had risen from 59% in 2014 to 60% last year.
In contrast, last year only 34% of those from working-class backgrounds had professional jobs, up from 32% in 2014.
Even when those from working-class backgrounds succeeded in entering the professions, the report found they earned on average 17% less than their more privileged colleagues.
For women, the position was even worse, with working-class women in professional jobs paid 35% less than men from more affluent backgrounds.
The report found that people from working-class backgrounds faced higher levels of unemployment, despite overall employment increasing.
“Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged,” said the commission chair, Dame Martina Milburn. “But being born disadvantaged means you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.
“At a time when our country needs to be highly productive and able to carve out a new role in a shifting political and economic landscape, we must find a way to maximise the talent of all our citizens, especially those that start the furthest behind.”
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think our big concern is not stagnation, but, as time goes by, that it will actually get worse … There’s still a big shift if you want to be socially mobile towards London. I think you’re three times more likely to move to London if you’re from a professional background than if you’re from a working-class background.”
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, told the BBC: “Social mobility is a very difficult thing to move. And, actually, we have had social immobility issues in this country for decades, for generations. And, actually, it’s quite difficult to measure movements over relatively short periods of time. You are talking usually about a generation.”
The report found that while there was twice the number of 16- to 18-year-olds in further education as there were in school sixth forms, the level of funding for the sector had fallen by 12% since 2011-12.
While increasing numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds were entering university, they were more likely to drop out before graduating.
The report called for a significant increase in funding for all 16- to 19-year-olds in education, with a special “student premium” for the disadvantaged. It recommended extending the offer of 30 hours’ free childcare a week for three- and four-year-olds to households where one parent is working eight hours a week – from 16 hours at present – which it said would benefit the most disadvantaged families.
And it called for the government to agree to pay the living wage to all employees and contracted workers, including cleaners and catering staff.
Source: The Guardian