There is no doubt that Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, has a personal commitment to making social mobility a reality. It’s something she’s spoken about a lot and her new action plan ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’, alongside last year’s Opportunity Areas, is a demonstration of that commitment.
However, the plan, which is as good as far as it goes, doesn’t mention the contribution that can be made by civil society. There is plenty of evidence that social action can help young people to develop the life skills, resilience and confidence that they need to succeed in life. These are all things gained by a well rounded extra curricular experience of the kind most schools no longer have the capacity for, which is where organisations like the Scouts, National Citizen Service and of course City Year UK come in. Helping them to reach thousands more children in the Government-identified social mobility ‘cold spots’ should be at the heart of the new Action Plan.
The poorest living in our cold spots have every right to feel isolated, left behind and resentful, and children growing up in these areas are more likely to become NEET (not in employment, education or training). It really does take a village to raise a child, but currently it requires a disaster like a terror attack or a devastating fire for people to cross community lines and help others.
Young people are the most likely to take opportunities to volunteer and make a difference in their neighbourhoods, and we should be harnessing this. Social action helps everyone, from the beneficiaries of public services to the volunteers themselves as they engage with communities and issues they may or may not face on a daily basis.
Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the limited bandwidth in Government for anything but Brexit, as highlighted by Alan Milburn when he and his fellow Social Mobility Commissioners resigned in frustration a few weeks ago. The Autumn Budget presented an ideal opportunity to address these divisions but £400m pledged to regenerate housing estates simply isn’t enough.
There is certainly a continuing lack of attention paid to the voluntary sector by Government, as demonstrated by the DCMS’s eventual response this week - six months late - to the House of Lords Committee on Charities report, which ignored any recommendations requiring them to take action. Hopefully the Full Time Social Action Review, due to report next month, won’t suffer the same unambitious fate.
It’s ambition, collaboration and radical action that’s required to tackle this chronic problem. I wouldn’t normally agree with Nick Timothy but he is right that if the Government really wants to deliver on social mobility they will need to be a lot more radical and be prepared to work with civil society to make it happen. Right now, I don’t have much hope that this Government can or will achieve that. I’d love to be proved wrong.