Alan Milburn was appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister as the Coalition Government’s Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility in August 2010. In April 2011, this role was extended to also look at child poverty, and set to last until the establishment of the independent statutory Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
The Reviewer’s remit is to investigate progress on improving social mobility and reducing child poverty, laying the groundwork for the new independent Commission. This includes:
8 March: Welfare Reform Act received Royal Assent. This Act included legislation triggering the establishment of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
8 May: The Commission was formally established in law, with Alan Milburn as the acting Chair. He will continue in this role to support the establishment of the organisation, until a permanent set of members have been appointed (by autumn 2012).
30 May: Publication of the Independent Reviewer’s report on Access to the Professions:
'Fair Access to Professional Careers: a Progress Report' looks at the opportunities available to individuals from different backgrounds to enter and progress in professional careers. It considers how these opportunities have changed since 2009, when Mr Milburn issued a call for action to employers and Government to tackle barriers to fair access.
26 June: Alan Milburn announced as the Government’s preferred candidate for permanent Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Neil O’Brien announced as Deputy Chair.
12 July: Alan Milburn officially appointed as permanent Chair of the Commission.
18 October: Publication of the Independent Reviewer’s report on Higher Education:
University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility The report looks at what universities need to do to address the social inequalities in who gets into university and what Government needs to do to reduce the risks that its higher education policies pose to its social mobility strategy.
Autumn (date TBC): Publication of the Independent Report on Progress on Social Mobility and Child Poverty. This will be published by the Commission.
A report on access to professional careers, published today by Rt. Hon Alan Milburn, the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, argues that:
Commenting on his findings, Mr. Milburn said:
The question posed by this report is whether the growth in professional employment is creating a social mobility dividend for our country. The short answer is not yet. The general picture seems to be of mainly minor changes in the social composition of the professions – this is social engineering on a grand scale. If social mobility is to become anything other than a pipedream, the professions will have to open up.
In his role as the Government’s Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, Alan Milburn has been evaluating what is happening on poverty and mobility in Britain and what contribution the Government, employers, universities and others are making to tackle these issues. His first report, Fair Access to Professional Careers: a Progress Report, looks at the opportunities available to individuals from different backgrounds to enter and progress in professional careers. It considers how these opportunities have changed since 2009, when Mr. Milburn issued a call for action to employers and Government to tackle barriers to fair access.
The report sets out the professional employment market as the fastest growing, best paid and most resilient sector; therefore one with great potential to support social mobility. The professions will account for approximately 83% of all new jobs in Britain in the next decade. In the middle of a prolonged economic downturn that has heightened public concerns about inequality and unfairness, this is a source for optimism about the prospects for social progress in the future.
However, this opportunity is at risk of being squandered, because the practical barriers that prevent fair access to professional careers have not yet been broken down. These barriers include poor careers advice, limited work experience opportunities, non-transparent internships, antiquated recruitment processes and inflexible entry routes.
The report looks in depth at the accessibility of four particular sectors: law; medicine; the media; and politics. There is evidence of a galvanised effort on the part of many organisations to improve access – and the report highlights examples of good practice. Some signs of progress are:
However, there is a varied commitment across sectors to making a real difference:
This is reflected in the fact that, at the top especially, the professions remain dominated by a social elite, representing social engineering on a grand scale:
Data collected for the report indicates this trend is set to continue, as the next generation of our country’s lawyers, doctors and journalists are likely to be a mirror image of previous generations:
The report makes 30 recommendations to increase progress. In summary:
The report concludes that, with a genuine national effort, the next decade can be a golden era when it comes to opening up opportunities in UK society. Achieving this will require far more work on the part of the professions. Mr Milburn’s next two reports will argue it also requires work on the part of universities and the Government.