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How Do We Break The Class Ceiling And Increase Access To Our Leading Professions?

16/01/2017 17:50

In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May spoke of building a country which works for everyone and not just the privileged few. But despite warm words from successive Prime Ministers, it remains the case that in this country, where a person is born and who they are born to is the most likely determinant of what their life chances will be.

The Leading People 2016 report by the Sutton Trust shows that the UK's top professions remain disproportionally occupied by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge. It found that almost a third of MPs in the 2015 intake were privately educated, as are nearly a third of the FTSE 100 chief executives that were educated in the UK, as did over half of the top 100 news journalists and over two-thirds of British Oscar winners. This is despite just 7% of people being educated privately. Across every profession, the picture is similar.

This represents a lost opportunity, both for the thousands of young people who are prevented from fulfilling their potential and for the economy as a whole. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, we wouldn't choose the 2020 Olympics Team by picking only the children of Gold Medal winners from 2000. So why do we allow background and connections rather than talent to determine access into our leading professions? If we (rightly) seek to challenge companies whose employee mix does not reflect society in terms of race, sex and other protected characteristics, then should we not do the same for class?

To investigate the reality behind these shocking statistics the APPG on Social Mobility, which I Chair, launched a detailed Inquiry. During the last few months, working with the Sutton Trust, we have heard evidence from 33 figures from across law, finance, medicine, journalism, politics and the arts. Witnesses included Michael Sheen, a BAFTA-winning actor; David Morley, Senior Partner at Allen & Overy; Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of accountancy firm Grant Thornton; Dan Jarvis MP and Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Today we publish our findings in our Report: "The class ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions."

What we found was that the challenges of widening access were extremely similar across the wide range of professions we heard from. Many spoke of needing to tackle unconscious bias, the lack of contextual recruitment practices, and the fact that for some employers, they just did not receive applications from highly able applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also heard that informal networks and the means to finance often lengthy unpaid-internships were key factors. Anyone outside London faces an immediate disadvantage in trying to access many of the professions but in particular the arts and politics.

Our full report can be found here.

It raises a number of discussion points, as well as making a range of recommendations, to different industry, schools, universities and government. Our key proposals include:

  • The government should develop a national social mobility strategy, linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a real business case and practical plan for improving social mobility.
  • Employers should be judged on their how successfully they promote social mobility in their organisation in the same way as is currently done for protected characteristics.
  • The government should ban unpaid internships. After at most one month, interns should be paid the National (or London) Living Wage.
  • Employers need to review their work experience policies to ensure access is fair and transparent, ensuring that all internships are publicly advertised to allow a more diverse range of candidates to apply.
  • Building on the success of the BRIT School in London, other schools and colleges should encourage young people to develop their skills in creative pursuits, regardless of background.
  • More support needs to be given to local arts groups to promote and stimulate interest in the medium, possibly through the use of pupil premium.
  • Political parties should seek to have a minimum of 50% of candidates from the local area when drawing up shortlists for Parliamentary seats.

These proposals as well as the others in our report could help us to finally break the class ceiling and ensure that young people everywhere have the chance to fulfil their potential. Genuinely creating opportunity for all is a huge challenge but I hope the Government will rise to it.

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