Social mobility in Britain ‘getting worse’, says government report

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Social mobility in Britain is getting worse for young people, with many trapped in low-paid jobs

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2016 report warns that social mobility problems in Britain are deeply entrenched, and that those born in the 1980s are the first post-war cohort to start their working years with lower incomes than their predecessors.

The education system and a two-tier, hollowed out labour market are major contributing factors, the report says. It states only one in 10 people manage to break out of low-paid jobs, and only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high-income earner as an adult.

The report makes several recommendations around the skills system and job market. It calls on the government to work with businesses to define a “new deal” around organisations’ social obligations and to ban unpaid internships.

It also calls on more businesses to become Living Wage employers and to develop strategies to provide lower-skilled workers with more structured career progression.

According to the report, the “piecemeal approach” of initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy and National Living Wage, which “risk overwhelming some businesses” in low margin sectors, should be replaced by a “partnership” model.

On education, the Commission recommends the development of a single UCAS-style portal to contain information about vocational routes as well as academic ones. It calls on the government to crack down on low-quality apprenticeships.

The Commission’s chair Alan Milburn said: “The rungs on the social mobility ladder are growing further apart. It is becoming harder for this generation of struggling families to move up.

"Fundamental reforms are needed in our country’s education system, labour market, and local economies to address Britain’s social mobility problem. That should be the holy grail of public policy, the priority for government, and the cause that unites the nation to action.”

Responding to the report, PwC UK chairman and senior partner Kevin Ellis said other organisations should follow the practical steps his firm has taken to increase social mobility, such as removing UCAS scores as entry criteria, offering paid internships, and working with local schools.

“We need to ensure that practical steps to break down barriers are taken,” he said. “Our experience is that to get more people into high-quality employment we need to start much earlier with raising aspirations and awareness in schools.”

He added: “Businesses, universities, schools and the government all need to work together to make sure that high-quality jobs are available and accessible to all, and that everyone knows about the opportunities available.”

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