The future of the Social Mobility Commission Contents


“Social mobility [ … ] is the crunch issue for our country. There is a social crisis in the country. We ought to understand that and do something about it.”1

Rt Hon Alan Milburn

1.The Social Mobility Commission is an independent statutory body, created by the Life Chances Act 2010 as the Child Poverty Commission, and renamed the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission by the Welfare Reform Act 2012. Its name was changed to the Social Mobility Commission by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. The Commission has a duty to assess progress towards improving social mobility in the UK and to promote social mobility in England. The Commission publishes an annual report assessing improvement in social mobility in the UK, provides advice (on request) to ministers on matters relating to social mobility and undertakes social mobility advocacy. Rt Hon Alan Milburn, the former Chair of the Commission, explained that he saw the advantage of the Commission being “something that sits outside objectively assessing what the Government and other actors in civil society were doing”.2

2.On 13 July 2016, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP made her first speech as the new Prime Minister outside 10 Downing Street. She spoke of the importance of “fighting against the burning injustice” in our society, and pledged to lead a Government that would make Britain “a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us”.3 The Prime Minister’s key message was that the Government would fight injustice in our society, and the purpose of the Social Mobility Commission was to shine a light on progress towards tackling injustice.

3.In December 2017 Mr Milburn resigned alongside his three fellow Commissioners. In his letter of resignation dated 2 December, Mr Milburn explained to the Prime Minister the reasons for his resignation, including roles on the Commission being vacant for almost two years and his belief that the Government was “unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda”.4

4.The resignation of the Commissioners was a source of serious concern. As the position of Chair of the Social Mobility Commission is subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the Education Committee,5 we resolved to investigate the circumstances leading to the Commissioners’ resignations and consider whether the Social Mobility Commission could be strengthened as a reformed body. We held an evidence session on 23 January with Mr Milburn and two of the former Commissioners, Rt Hon Baroness Shephard and David Johnston. The fourth Commissioner, Professor Paul Gregg, was unable to attend.

5.The role of the Commission as an independent advisory body is vital. It is not just a think-tank: it is a statutory body specifically designed to “[put] the Government’s feet to the fire”.6 The evidence which we have taken in the course of this brief inquiry has led us to the conclusion that a few relatively minor legislative changes would result in a more effective Commission. In Chapter 2 of this report we explain the changes we believe should be made. A draft Bill amending the remit of the Commission to provide for those changes is appended to this report.

6.We also consider that there should be a body inside Government to coordinate and drive forward initiatives to ensure social justice across the country, and to ensure coherence and cohesion across government departments. Chapter 3 of this report sets out our recommendation for the creation of such a body.

1 Q478

2 Q476

6 Q476

Published: 22 March 2018