Decrying the decades-old target of increased social mobility as a failed strategy which helped only a “lucky few”, the Labour leader promised a new approach that would aim to give every child the chance to flourish.
With shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, he launched plans for a Social Justice Commission to replace the Social Mobility Commission established by David Cameron’s government.
The “meritocratic” goal of social mobility has been pursued by governments of all political stripes for many years, with the aim of making it possible for individuals to better themselves through their own efforts and abilities.
But under Mr Corbyn, Labour argues that the concept has given credibility to the idea that “only a few talented or lucky people deserve to escape the disadvantage they were born into”.
At a Labour conference in Birmingham, Mr Corbyn announced that the new commission would advise ministers on policies that could improve social justice and have wide-ranging powers to hold future governments to account, including by carrying out impact assessments on policy proposals. A new Minister for Social Justice would work across government departments to drive the social justice agenda.
Mr Corbyn said: “For decades we’ve been told that inequality doesn’t matter because the education system will allow talented and hard-working people succeed whatever their background. But the greater inequality has become, the more entrenched it has become.
“Social mobility has failed, even on its own terms. The idea that only a few talented or lucky people deserve to escape the disadvantage they were born into, leaving in place a social hierarchy in which millions are consigned to the scrap heap, results in the talents of millions of children being squandered.
“Education is one of the most powerful means we have to overcome disadvantage. But our current system is mirroring and reinforcing the inequality in our society. The privileged remain privileged while people from working-class backgrounds are denied opportunities.
“We need a new approach – an education system that will unlock the potential of every child, not just a lucky few. We need to give everybody the chance to flourish.”
Ms Rayner added: “Focusing only on a lucky few leaves inequality entrenched and those from disadvantaged backgrounds with few opportunities to get on. That was the damning verdict of the government’s own Social Mobility Commission, which Tory ministers have shamefully ignored.
“The Tories like to talk about people like me who had a difficult start but got on in life as evidence that anyone can succeed on their own. But actually my life shows the exact opposite. Any success I have had is thanks to Labour governments that provided the council house, minimum wage, tax credits and Sure Start children’s centre that enabled me to achieve it.
“That is social justice. Not one person doing better than the people they grew up with but all of us working together to give everyone the chance to reach their full potential.”
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