Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership questioned over 'virtually stagnant' progress on tackling social mobility

Progress is being made to address damning inequality throughout British society, the Prime Minister’s office has insisted, despite a commission set up by the Government warning the problem will remain entrenched without more urgent action.

Prime Minister Theresa May has defended her Government's record on tackling inequality and social mobility despite damning findings in a new report by the Social Mobility Commission. Picture by Kelvin Stuttard.

The situation has remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014, according to the Social Mobility Commission, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based in York, called for clear leadership because the country is “drifting in the wrong direction”.

Theresa May’s official spokesman admitted there was “more to do”, even though the Government had increased the national living wage, cut income tax for the lowest paid and doubled free childcare.

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The commission’s State Of The Nation report states that those from better-off backgrounds are almost 80 per cent more likely to be in a professional job than their working class peers.

Huge jobs and pay gaps

The number of people from professional backgrounds in professional jobs rose from 59 per cent in 2014 to 60 per cent last year, yet only 34 per cent from working-class backgrounds had professional jobs in 2018 – just two per cent more than in 2014.

People from working class backgrounds who did enter professions earned 17 per cent less, on average, than more privileged colleagues – with women paid 35 per cent less than men from more affluent backgrounds.

The report also found that people from working class backgrounds still faced higher unemployment levels.

It concludes: “Social mobility has stagnated over the last four years at virtually all stages, from birth to work.”

Damning indictment

Dame Martina Milburn, who chairs the commission, said: “What this tells us is that being born disadvantaged in the UK means there is every chance you will stay disadvantaged.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation chief executive Campbell Robb added: “At a time when we need clear leadership in solving poverty and improving social mobility, our country is drifting in the wrong direction.”

Defensive

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said social mobility was “a very difficult thing to move” but the Government was committed to creating “opportunity for all”.

Responding to the report, Mrs May’s official spokesman said she had “always been very clear in her commitment to fighting injustice and creating opportunity for everyone”, adding: “We are making progress. But we do recognise that there is more to do and the work continues.”

Commission's recommendations

Funding for all 16 to 19-year-olds in education should increase, with a “student premium” for the disadvantaged, the Social Mobility Commission said.

It also wants 30 hours’ free childcare a week for households where one parent works eight hours a week, not just 16 hours, and the living wage to apply to all employees and contracted workers.

Defending the Government’s record, Mrs May’s office said employment is at a record high, wages outstrip inflation, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had narrowed, and the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in education or apprenticeships was at an all-time high.