Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Sunday, 7 December 2008

Tories in social mobility drive

Primary school classroom
The Tories say intervention at primary school level is vital

Radical changes are needed to increase social mobility, the Conservatives are to say, accusing Labour of a "wasted decade" of failed policies.

In a report published on Monday, the Tories say it is "more and more difficult" for young people to achieve more than their parents have.

Early intervention is key to tackling spirals of educational underachievement and unemployment, the Tories believe.

Labour accused the Tories of "cynically chasing headlines".

'Crusade'

In Monday's report, entitled Through the Glass Ceiling, the Conservatives argue that, under Labour, the UK has become one of the most socially immobile societies in the western world.

They say that in parts of the country, successive generations have become trapped in a cycle of educational failure and welfare dependency.

They say people are being held back by family breakdown, a failure to identify and nurture children with academic potential, inadequate after-school skills development and the blight of unemployment.

Britain is now a country where it is more and more difficult for young people to do better than their parents did,
Chris Grayling, shadow work and pensions secretary

The Tories say their thinking has been influenced by work being done in Germany where generations of the same family are offered help, either with finding jobs or improving key skills such as reading.

Specific proposals include providing 4,000 more health visitors to help parents with babies and young children, 775m to fund apprenticeships and increased focus on subjects such as sciences and modern languages.

"Britain is now a country where it is more and more difficult for young people to do better than their parents did," said shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling.

"For 10 years, the government has been telling us it has the policies to solve the problem. But it has not worked. Britain really now needs a fresh direction."

Child grants

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has described himself as "a child of the first great wave of post-war social mobility" but says that these advances stalled in the 1970s and 1980s in which a "lost generation" was left behind.

He maintains Labour have narrowed the gap in schools between social classes and lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty through the tax system, as well as increasing employment, but acknowledges more needs to be done.

Recent government initiatives include pilot projects to tackle child poverty by offering parents a one-off 200 child development grant to attend and take up services in new children's centres.

There are also plans to offer two-year-olds in the most disadvantaged areas free nursery places.

A spokesman for Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said: "The approach they seem to be advocating is exactly the approach we outlined in the Gregg report earlier this week - personal advisers helping families on benefits to overcome difficulties in their lives - and the Tories opposed it saying we had 'gone too far'.

"Now, because they think it will make good headlines, they are suggesting exactly what we were."

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