'Unlock the closed-shop professions'

The problem with social mobility: Politicians who say they want to break down Britain's social barriers have been told to start in their own backyard

It is the new Holy Grail for politicians. A desire to improve social mobility unites David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. But yesterday the political class was warned it had become part of a new "social elite" and "closed shop" created by the refusal of Britain's professions to open themselves up to people from lower-class backgrounds.

Alan Milburn, the Government's independent adviser on social mobility and child poverty, said political parties should "get their own house in order" by choosing parliamentary candidates from a much wider social spectrum before criticising other professions for not opening their doors.

In a progress report following his 2009 study for the previous Government, Mr Milburn said medicine had not widened access in the way that the law and the civil service have begun to. Singling out the media as the "worst offender", he said journalism has become more socially exclusive than any other profession and did not even collect data on the background of its recruits.

The former Labour Cabinet minister proposed that interns be paid at least the national minimum wage, but said legislation to enforce it should be a last resort. Mr Milburn said the Government's drive to improve social mobility, led by Nick Clegg, was well-intentioned but would remain a "pipe dream" unless the professions backed it. He said they had a "golden opportunity" to do so because the professions will account for about 83 per cent of the two million or so new jobs that will be created in Britain in the next decade.

In the 1950s, professional jobs were open to a wide mix of people, who could work their way up from the bottom without a degree. But this did not last. In a classic comedy sketch from 1967, a 6ft 5in John Cleese, representing the upper class, looks down on the Two Ronnies, who represent the middle and working classes. Ronnie Barker says: "I look up to him [Cleese] because he is upper class and look down on him [Corbett] because he is lower class." The tiny Corbett says: "I know my place."

Today, although only 7 per cent of people are educated at private schools, they still have a "stranglehold" on the top professional jobs, Mr Milburn said. The "forgotten middle class" as well as those at the very bottom of the ladder miss out because they lack the right connections. So the next generation in the professions will look very similar to today's.

"The glass ceiling has been scratched but not broken," said Mr Milburn, adding that the figures in his study illustrated "social engineering on a grand scale". They showed that:

* 83 of the 114 High Court judges were privately educated and 82 went to Oxford or Cambridge;

* 43 per cent of barristers went to fee-paying secondary schools, and a third graduated from Oxbridge;

* 54 per cent of top journalists were privately educated, with a third going to Oxbridge.

The former Health Secretary reserved some of his strongest criticism for the politicos. He pointed out that 59 per cent of the 2010 Cabinet was privately educated, up from 32 per cent in Gordon Brown's government. The proportion of MPs who went to private schools has risen from 30 to 35 per cent since 1997 and 13 private schools now provide 10 per cent of all MPs. About 62 per cent of House of Lords members were privately educated, with 12 private schools supplying 43 per cent of peers.

Calling on politicians to set a good example, Mr Milburn said: "Parliament is unrepresentative of the people it serves. Parliament is dominated by middle-aged white men." The parties have made progress in selecting more women and ethnic minority candidates and now need to do the same for people from less well-off backgrounds, he added.

Few would disagree with his analysis. But what can be done? Mr Milburn is not in favour of legislation or quotas. His recipe is to produce an annual report showing progress, or the lack of it, to shame employers into action. "A lot of this is about shining a spotlight," he said.

With parents and grandparents worried that the next generation will not be better off, he thinks most professions will want to respond to a new public mood in favour of a more caring capitalism. "There is a 'wake up and smell the coffee' moment here," he said. "The rules of the game have changed profoundly."

His 30 recommendations include more co-ordinated, universal action by schools, including a national mentoring programme; ending the "lottery" of work experience and internships through a formal kitemarking scheme; and persuading employers to recruit from a wider range of universities and regions.

A surprisingly optimistic Mr Milburn concluded: "There is every chance that, like the 1950s, the next decade can be a golden era when it comes to opening up opportunities in our society. But that will not just happen. It has to be made. With a genuine national effort we can break the corrosive correlation between demography and destiny that so poisons British society."

By numbers: Social (im)mobility

41 per cent of law undergraduates in 2010-11 were from the three highest socio-economic groups and only 21 per cent came from the five lowest groups.

49 per cent of journalism students came from the highest groups and 14 per cent from the three lowest.

57 per cent of medical students came from the top groups and only 7 per cent from the bottom, with 22 per cent of all medical and dental undergraduates being educated at private schools.

15 of the 17 Supreme Court judges and heads of division were educated at private schools before going on to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Of 38 justices of appeal, 26 attended private schools, eight attended grammar schools, only two attended state comprehensive schools and two were schooled overseas.

43 per cent of barristers attended a fee-paying secondary school, with almost a third going on to study at Oxbridge.

35 per cent of MPs elected in 2010 are privately educated compared with 30 per cent in 1997, with just 13 private schools providing 10 per cent of all MPs.

62 per cent of all members of the House of Lords were privately educated, with 43 per cent of the total having come from just 12 private schools.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests