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Social mobility is stagnant, says Alan Milburn


Limited progress is being made in prising open the professions to all, with the senior ranks of politics, medicine, the law and journalism remaining a "closed shop", evidence from a new report suggested today.

Labour's former health secretary Alan Milburn, the Government's independent reviewer on social mobility, argued that too many children from average income and middle class families, let alone lower income ones, were "losing out" in the race for professional jobs.

At the top of the professional tree especially, he said, the "default setting" was to recruit from "far too narrow a pot".

Speaking at a press conference in London, Mr Milburn said there had been "growing public concern" that social mobility in Britain had been "stagnant for far too long".

He said: "Across the professions as a whole, the glass ceiling might have been scratched, but it's certainly not been broken. At the top especially, the professions remain dominated by the social elite."

Mr Milburn's report, entitled Fair Access to Professional Careers, said 83% of jobs created in the next decade will be in the professions, increasing the proportion of the working population in professional careers from 42% to 46% by 2020

He added: "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.

"In fact, the lack of progress on opening up the professions to a wider pool of talent risks squandering that enormous opportunity for social progress."

Private schools which educate around 7% of all pupils, he said, continue to have a "stranglehold" on the country's top jobs.

He said: "Of course parents should be free to send their children to the school of their choice, after all every parent wants the best for their child. The problem is that despite progress of the last decade, there are still too few good schools and the gap between private and state education often remains frustratingly wide."

The report found the judiciary remains "solidly and socially elitist", with 43% of barristers attending a fee paying secondary school and almost one third studying at Oxbridge.

Of the country's top journalists, 54% were privately educated with one third graduating from Oxbridge.

Privately educated MPs comprised 30% of the total in 1997, but after the 2010 election now comprise 35%, with just 13 private schools providing 10% of all Members of Parliament.

About 62% of members of the House of Lords, were privately educated, with 43% of the total having attended just 12 private schools.

Mr Milburn said: "This is social engineering on a grand scale. The senior ranks of the professions are a closed shop. If social mobility is to become anything other than a pipe dream they will have to open up.

"Unfortunately, the evidence collected for this report suggests there is only at best limited progress being made in prising open the professions."

Mr Milburn said "not nearly enough" progress was being made, though there were some positive examples of improvement. For example the civil service, where since 2009 the proportion of senior civil servants who have been privately educated has fallen from 45% to 27% today.

The legal profession, he added, was "on the right track" but its social mobility progress was "too slow" and needed to "significantly accelerate".

Medicine "lags behind" other professions in the priority given to these issues, while journalism, he said, had "shifted to a greater degree of social exclusivity", adding that the media industry, "with some honourable exceptions" did not seem to take fair access seriously.

In the field of politics, he said, when major political parties continue to select parliamentary candidates who are "disproportionately drawn" from better off backgrounds, they are "limiting that pool of talent rather than widening it by making Parliament less and less representative" of the country they serve.