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6 Apr 2011 : Column WS149

6 Apr 2011 : Column WS149

Written Statement

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Correction to Lords Oral Statement


The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): I regret that the Statement that I made to the House on 5 April 2011(Official Report, cols. 1622-24) was not a repeat of the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister to Harriet Harman MP's Urgent Question in the House of Commons that same day. The Answer that I should have repeated to the House as a Statement is as follows:

Today, the Government are launching their strategy to improve social mobility. While our most urgent task is to sort out the nation's finances, our overriding mission is to take real steps towards a fairer society. To us, a fair society is an open society, one in which everyone is free to flourish and rise regardless of the circumstances of their birth. That is why the promotion of social mobility is the principal objective of the coalition Government's social policy.

It is simply unacceptable that so many of our children have their life chances shaped by the circumstances of their birth. Gaps in development between children from different backgrounds can be detected even at birth. By the age of five, bright children from poorer backgrounds have been overtaken by less bright children from richer ones-and from this point on, the gaps tend to widen still further.

That is why this Government are taking a life-cycle approach to social mobility, an approach where we seek to remove the obstacles to mobility at each stage of an individual's life-hence our new entitlements for free pre-school care for all two year-olds from disadvantaged families and our pupil premium designed to narrow attainment gaps in the school years. Then we are creating an extra 250,000 apprenticeships to boost mobility in the labour market and opening up higher education so that children from all backgrounds can have the chance to go to university and end the scandal whereby the one in five children who are eligible for free school meals make up less than one in 100 entering Oxford and Cambridge.

We will continue to encourage fair access to jobs during adulthood and, in particular, we are tackling the long-standing problems caused by unpaid internships

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dominated by those from the most affluent backgrounds. The Civil Service is leading by example and today my colleague Baroness Warsi announced an end to unfair informal internships in Whitehall. We are signing up companies and other organisations to a new business compact on social mobility, asking business to do its bit. It should be what you know, not who you know, that helps you to get a foot in the door.

We recognise, of course, that government alone cannot single-handedly create a fairer society. It is a task for parents, communities, businesses, professions and voluntary organisations, too. This is not just a government mission; it is a national mission, and I hope that opposition Members will support our drive to tackle the long-standing problems of social immobility in this country.

Low levels of social mobility clearly exact a high social price by cramping the opportunities of millions of children, but they damage our economy too, because talented individuals are denied the opportunity to develop their full potential. Of course it is not enough just to talk about social mobility. We need clear measures and a mechanism for accountability, and our strategy sets out a clear framework for holding the Government to account on our ambitious proposals. We are creating a new statutory social mobility and child poverty commission to assess progress on child poverty and social mobility, to hold Government and others to account, and to act as an advocate for change. We have developed a set of leading indicators, which will be used to track progress towards a more mobile society. For the first time, as departments develop new policies, they will need to consider the impact on social mobility. I will continue to chair a group of Ministers to maintain the momentum for change.

Today's strategy sets out the concrete steps that the Government are taking to promote social mobility and an open and fair society. There are many policy and technical challenges in this area and I am grateful for the support of Members in all parts of the House. Of course it is true that most people do not sit around talking about intergenerational social mobility, but at the heart of our strategy is a common instinct. It is the most natural feeling in the world for any parent to want their children to have the opportunities that they did not and we can all agree that, as I said earlier, in a fair society what counts is how hard you work, not how much your parents earn. In a fair society, ability trumps privilege and that is the society that the Government want to build.

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