Government departments have failed to act on a third of key recommendations made by the Social Mobility Commission in the last seven years, according to analysis released by the commission today.
The report – Monitoring Social Mobility 2013 to 2020: Is the government delivering on our recommendations? –showed that of 52 proposals made by the commission since 2013, on 31% there was no or very little action; on almost half (46%) there was some but insufficient progress; and on just 23% a proposal had been delivered.
Progress across policy areas including education, employment and transport are rated according to red (little or no progress), amber (insufficient progress) and green (delivered).
When it came to ensuring social mobility in employment, the government only scored green on one measure: in making socio-economic diversity a priority in the Civil Service.
The Social Mobility Commission said that the Civil Service had provided significant detail on actions such as measuring its workforce, creating board-level champions, creating networks and building a cross-government social mobility action plan.
It noted that government departments accounted for a record number of 15 entries in the Social Mobility Foundation’s employer index in 2019.
However, the commission found that the government was still not doing enough to eliminate youth unemployment, to incentivise employers in so-called social mobility ‘cold spots’ to hire more people, or to ensure apprenticeships did enough to help social mobility.
Red ratings were given against the following measurements:
- What action has the government taken in considering social mobility, and in particular the living wage in its social value framework for procurement?
- What progress have government departments made in becoming voluntary living wage employers?
- What progress has the government made to increase funding for adult education, particularly at Levels 2 and 3?
- What progress has the government made in improving the quality of information available on adult skills, training and careers?
The report noted that government investment in those not in education employment or training (NEET) was “particularly concerning”. It said that while there had been a reduction in the number of people falling into this category in the past 10 years, this had largely been a result of near-full employment.
“Ultimately, we appreciate the government’s efforts, but feel much more could and should be done to ensure disadvantaged young people do not bear a disproportionate burden as the economy recovers,” it added.
The commission also said more investment needed to be made in adult training and re-skilling, pointing to its own research last year that showed the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are least likely to access training at work.
Apprenticeships, while “a ray of potential hope in the adult training landscape”, risked cutting off access to education to those from disadvantaged backgrounds if employers did not continue to invest in Level 2 qualifications, which have seen a drop in starts.
“If the parts of the system that mainly support those from disadvantaged backgrounds are choked off, we will embed an imbalanced system that supports more privileged people at the expense of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” it said.
The commission called on the government to consider its own practice as an employer by adopting the voluntary living wage and reviewing its procurement practices.
Dame Martina Milburn, outgoing chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “The Prime Minister’s goal of ‘levelling-up’ opportunity would now have to take place in the context of the major economic and social dislocation caused by coronavirus.
“Social mobility has never been more important. It is the poor and the young who will suffer the most from the economic downturn.
“To succeed action will need to be driven from the heart of government. At present, there is no meaningful coordination between departments on the social mobility agenda, and no single force championing social mobility across government.”
In 2017, all four members of the commission, including its previous chair, the former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, stepped down in protest at the government’s inaction towards social justice.
Sarah Atkinson, CEO of charity the Social Mobility Foundation, said the report “paints a stark picture”.
“Even before the crisis we currently face, social mobility in this country was far below the rest of Europe and falling further behind and yet the government had failed to act. This report shows that the British promise to young people – work hard and you will be rewarded – is still being broken, and in fact it is where you are born and your family background that determines your life chances. Levelling up is at risk of becoming a cruel joke.
“The UK has yet to feel the full economic and social impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, all evidence so far is cause for serious concern. From early years education to universities, and from apprenticeships to professional jobs, the gap between rich and poor is accelerating further still and it is young people who will be most damaged unless we act.”
She added that the creation of a dedicated social mobility unit was “sensible” in terms of ensuring coordination between departments on these issues, “but the evidence of this report is that leading change can’t be left to government or it will never happen”.
“Employers, local authorities, schools and universities, and all of us in civil society have to act with urgency and ambition to create the opportunities that are so desperately needed for young people, and government should make clear it will back and invest in bold commitments.”