Young people from poor backgrounds have less chance of landing a highly paid job than their parents did because some measures of social mobility have gone backwards, the Government has admitted.
In a White Paper, ministers insist that action Labour has taken since 1997 to improve social mobility is starting to make an impact. But they concede that, on some counts, people's chances of moving up the opportunities ladder have not improved since the Second World War.
The paper says: "If measured by income, there is evidence that for people born in 1970, their background actually had a bigger influence on their chances of attaining a highly paid job than for those born in 1958. In other words, over this period there appeared to be a decline in relative social mobility."
The proportion of men who got a higher-skilled job than their parents increased after the war but has not risen since 2000. For women the figures have continued to improve.
Yesterday's report claims there has been "remarkable progress" over the past decade on pre-school education; it says school funding per pupil has doubled; 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty and almost 300,000 more students benefit from higher education. However, the White Paper admits there is "more to do".
Gordon Brown said: "During this global economic downturn we must continue to invest in people so they have a fair chance to achieve their potential. The world economy is set to double and the expansion of digital and green industries will offer new opportunities. We must be ready to seize these opportunities."
Liam Byrne, the Cabinet Office minister who co-ordinated the White Paper, said: "Unlocking ambition isn't free. It needs real investment now if our future performance is to match our future potential."
New measures in yesterday's report include £10,000 "golden handcuffs" payments for new teachers who work at underperforming schools for at least three years; a £500 training grant for parents and carers who return to work and a "guarantee" of help so that children from low-income families with high potential can get to university.
Ministers will consider imposing a new legal duty on the Government and the rest of the public sector to close the gap between people from different backgrounds in every policy decision they make. The Government will try to "redress the balance" between further and higher education, because young people who go straight into jobs after school have significantly less spent on their education than those who go to university.
Theresa May, the shadow Equality minister, said: "The Government thinks social inequality can be solved by passing a law. You don't make people's lives better by telling them they have a legal right to a better life. You do it by tackling the root causes like family breakdown and poor education."