Britain’s top professions remain ‘too much of a closed shop’, according to a new Government paper on social mobility compiled by ex-Cabinet minister Alan Milburn. The report argues that professions like law, medicine, business, and politics are getting more socially exclusive rather than less – that they’re increasingly going to richer kids. And with the number of professional and managerial jobs likely to mushroom in the next ten years, we’re going to need to start drawing talent from a wider pool. All important points – although they do raise a few awkward questions about the people who’ve been in Government for the last 12 years...
Milburn, who presumably got this gig because he’s one such success story (having risen from a North-East council estate to the cabinet), suggests that ‘the glass ceiling has been raised, but not yet broken’. His Panel on Fair Access to the Professions reckons that the typical future professional is currently growing up in families richer than seven out of ten families in the UK, while the top professions are dominated by private school kids to a hugely disproportionate extent. Milburn argue that the key is ‘unleashing aspiration’ – persuading people whose parents aren’t from professional backgrounds that they should pursue managerial jobs. It’s opportunity they lack, not ability, he insists.
As the report rightly points out, there’s a pressing need here. One in three UK jobs is already professional, and the Panel suggests that as many as nine out of ten new jobs created between now and 2020 will be too, as the service sector continues to grow in importance. That’s a lot of management jobs to fill, and it’s not going to happen unless recruits are drawn from a broader section of society. The Panel hopes this can be achieved through - inter alia - education reform (including school vouchers), pressuring universities to take more disadvantaged students, and overhauling work experience schemes so they’re less dependent on who Mummy or Daddy knows at the club.
It’s a laudable cause, though we suspect some might find all this a bit rich coming from the present Government. For a start, social mobility has actually gone backwards under its watch – coming up with grand plans in its 12th (and possibly penultimate) year in power is arguably too little, too late. Others have pointed out that the abolition of grammar schools and introduction of tuition fees have both made it harder for kids from poorer background to succeed academically. What’s more, its spending cupboard is now so bare – it was revealed today that UK public debt now stands at an eye-popping £799bn – that it can’t afford to throw any money at the problem, as Milburn himself admitted.
Still, that doesn't mean we can afford to ignore the issue...
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