Working class professionals earn around £7,000 less than middle class colleagues, struggle to get promoted and feel forced to “hide” their “embarrassing” backgrounds, Alan Milburn has said.
The chair of the Social Mobility Foundation called on employers to help recruits from lower income backgrounds “get on as well as get in” to the most sought-after professions.
He said that despite recruitment becoming more diverse, there was “growing evidence” people from lower income backgrounds felt excluded at work.
“They can feel they need to dress differently, speak differently and pretend to understand cultural references they’re not familiar with,” he said.
“They sometimes hide their background as they feel embarrassed by it.”
He said data his charity had gathered suggested working class people were not being promoted at the same rate as more affluent colleagues, and that they left organisations earlier.
“Employers have worked hard to make their cultures more welcoming to women, ethnic minorities and those who are LGBT,” he said. “They now need to make sure they’re equally welcoming to those who are not from a middle class background.”
In a wide-ranging speech in central London, the former Labour health secretary - who resigned as head of the government’s Social Mobility Commission (SMC) in 2017 over ministers’ inaction - predicted a “long, slow and painful” end of the “old political order” of Labour-Tory dominance as Brexit played out.
But, he added, Britain’s break from the EU threatened allowed Theresa May’s government to “relegate” social issues “to the bottom of the political and policy agenda”.
Last month, the SMC, now led by Dame Martina Milburn, found that social mobility had remained stagnant since 2014 with inequality “now entrenched from birth to work”.
Milburn warned that, as well as the class divide, the gulf between cities, particularly London, and rural and coastal towns, most of which voted strongly for Brexit, was widening.
“There is a profound social crisis in Britain today and it is getting worse not better,” he said. “That it should be shunned by politics is outrageous and it is dangerous.
“These are places where the public mood often oscillates between sullen sourness and downright anger. They are the cousins of rustbelt America.”
The former MP for Darlington, who himself grew up in a council home, said where politics was failing to address social mobility, civic society should step up.
“At a time when politics is weak society needs to be strong,” he said. “I do not say that purely because I believe there is a responsibility on employers, educators and local leaders to step into the space created by the retreat of politics.
“Nor am I naive enough to believe that a groundswell for change amongst institutions in civil society can replace what national politics at its best can do. What I do believe however is that we cannot stand idly by and let this social crisis envelope our nation.”