State of the Nation report: Social mobility in UK ‘virtually stagnant’

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Inequality will remain entrenched in the UK “from birth to work” unless the government takes urgent action, the Social Mobility Commission has warned.

Its State of the Nation report said the situation had remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014.

It is calling on ministers to provide additional funding for older teenagers in education and to extend free childcare to more low income families.

The government said it would take the recommendations seriously.

The findings will come as a setback to Theresa May who promised to tackle the “burning injustice” of social inequality when she entered Downing Street in 2016.

However, the following year all of the commissioners on the Social Mobility Commission – set up in 2010 to monitor and promote social mobility – resigned, saying the government was too focused on Brexit to deal with creating a fairer Britain.

Dame Martina Milburn, who has since been appointed as the new chairwoman, said she sensed there was now “a real commitment” from the government.

However, she said the biggest concern was not stagnation but that the problem might actually get worse.

“There’s still a big shift – if you want to be socially mobile – towards London,” she told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

“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.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said he welcomed the “thorough” report – the first since the new commissioners were appointed – but stopped short of saying the government would adopt all of its recommendations.

He told the Today programme that social mobility was “a very difficult thing to move” and hard to measure over short periods but said he was focused on the generation currently coming through school.

The report recommends:

  • a “significant increase” in funding for all 16 to 19-year-olds in education, with a special “student premium” for the disadvantaged
  • extending the offer of 30 hours of free childcare a week to cover households where one parent is working eight hours a week – currently one parent must work at least 16 hours
  • the government agreeing to pay the voluntary living wage to all of its employees and contracted workers, including cleaners and catering staff
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Image caption Dame Martina Milburn says those born privileged are likely to remain privileged

The report found 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 slightly, from 59% in 2014 to 60% last year.

In contrast, only 34% of those from working class backgrounds had professional jobs last year, slightly up from 32% in 2014.

“Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged,” said Dame Martina.

“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.”

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