Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

UK an 'unequal place to grow up'

Council estate, London
A report says investment in education has failed to boost social mobility

The UK remains an unequal place to grow up, with success in life largely determined by parents' backgrounds and earnings, a report says.

The Social Mobility Commission, set up by the Liberal Democrats, is urging the government to offer interest-free loans to struggling poorer families.

Schools in deprived areas should also receive more money, it adds.

The government, due to publish a report on social mobility on Tuesday, said it was committed to equal opportunities.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has asked former health secretary Alan Milburn to chair a group looking into the issue.


The Social Mobility Commission's report contains 27 main recommendations to end what is referred to as "a society of persistent inequality".

Most concern a targeting of resources to deprived households and schools with the highest proportions of poorer pupils.

The report also suggests child tax credits should be available only to low-income families and that they should also have access to affordable credit such as interest-free loans.

We've raised the glass ceiling, but we haven't broken through it
Alan Milburn
Former health secretary

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "This expert analysis shatters the idea that Britain in 2009 is a free and fair society.

"It is an outrage and a tragedy that two children born at the same time in the same hospital should have wildly different life chances based simply on the income of their parents."

Martin Narey, chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's, who chaired the commission, told the BBC that much more needed to be done.

He said education had "not become the great leveller that many people believed it would be" and investment had "disproportionately benefited the middle classes".

"There's been a much greater expansion in university education for children from comfortable backgrounds than from the most deprived backgrounds," he said.

"We need to make sure that the most disadvantaged children get to the best schools and we need to look at over-riding local authority admission policies and school admission policies.

"If we did that more widely, we would fundamentally alter equality of opportunity for the disadvantaged."

'Bottomed out'

Mr Narey said the issue of child poverty also had to be addressed.

"A basic and reasonable income is an absolute prerequisite for social mobility," he added.

The government said it remained committed to narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Mr Milburn's panel of industry leaders will look at helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get on in key professions.

He told the BBC it was vital to encourage children from all classes to develop careers in law, medicine, the senior civil service, media and finance.

"This is about identifying the obstacles that stand in their way and removing them," he said.

"We've raised the glass ceiling, but we haven't broken through it."

Mr Milburn admitted that social mobility had been declining in Britain for several decades, but said it had recently "bottomed out" and "the opportunity now is to get it going again".

The Social Mobility Commission - which is comprised of charity leaders, academics and economists - was set up last year at the instigation of Mr Clegg.

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