Ed Miliband speech on Social Mobility to the Sutton Trust21 May 2012
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, speaking to the Sutton Trust this morning, said:
- Check against delivery -
It’s great to be here at the Sutton Trust’s conference on social mobility.
You have done so much to help understand and advance the cause of equal opportunity, social mobility and tackling inequality.
And Peter I particularly want to thank you, as one of Britain’s best advocates for social mobility.
Why does this issue matter to me?
Because the foundation for my politics is a belief in the equal worth of every citizen.
From that flows the idea that everyone should have equal chances to get on and make a better life for themselves.
I have a personal reason for believing in the importance of social mobility.
I am only standing here today because the British education system helped my dad break through barriers.
He arrived in this country in 1940.
A sixteen year-old Jewish boy who had left his mother and sister in hiding and fled here from the Nazis with his dad.
When he got off the boat from Belgium he didn’t even speak English.
For nine months, he got by doing odd jobs.
And after going to Acton Technical College he won a place at the London School of Economics.
His writing and teaching came to be respected internationally.
He was able to make a life for himself and for his family.
He set me upon the path that took me here.
But that kind of story is becoming harder in Britain today.
If your parents are rich you've got an excellent chance of going to university and getting a good degree.
But if they are poor, you are far less likely to.
Despite all the efforts of the last few generations to open Britain up, the doors of opportunity are open much wider for a wealthy and privileged few than they are for the many.
My argument is this:
The last Labour Government took important steps on social mobility.
But now, this Government is taking backward steps in much of what it is doing.
For the future, we must both intensify and broaden our approach to social mobility.
Seeking to expand access to university and open up the closed circles of the professions.
And also doing something that we haven’t done enough.
Improving social mobility for those who don’t go to university.
There is no shortage of politicians queueing up to talk to you.
Michael Gove this evening.
Nick Clegg tomorrow.
“Build a conference on social mobility and we will come.”
But this apparent consensus conceals real differences in approach.
The last Government extended ladders of opportunity.
We created Sure Start – and thousands of new Children’s Centres,
We gave children the right to free early-years education,
We dramatically increased support for schools with disadvantaged pupils.
And, as a result, we saw the gaps in attainment narrow.
Family background had less influence on GCSE results for those taking them in 2006, compared to those taking them in 1986.
That is testament to our extra investment in education, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.
Tackling social mobility is a huge mountain to climb, and in government we took some important steps.
But now Britain is sliding backwards.
Children’s Centres are closing.
Educational Maintenance Allowances have been scrapped.
And tuition fees raised to £9,000.
If we win the next election, one of our tasks would be to lower the new barriers which have been placed in young people’s way by this Government.
I have already announced how, right now, we would fund a reduction in tuition fees to a maximum of £6,000.
There is much more to be done before everyone really has equal opportunities to enter professions which have been too closed, to too many, for far too long.
But I don’t want to just tell you what you already know about the challenges we often debate.
I also want to challenge some of the assumptions about social mobility.
A few months ago I met a group of apprentices working at Jaguar Land Rover.
They told me how lucky they felt to be working on racing car prototypes.
They had found a path into a really exciting job.
One where they would be trained, stretched and expected to make use of their talent
They were at the beginning of a career.
One which will lead to better wages, better prospects and a better life than perhaps their parents had.
But they told me they felt they were the lucky few.
Many, most, of their friends haven’t had chances like that.
That represents a route to social mobility which is different from higher education.
I believe in expanding access to higher education.
But the question we must all answer is what happens to those who don’t go to university?
Social mobility must not be just about changing the odds that young people from poor backgrounds will make it to university.
That really matters.
But we also have to improve opportunities for everyone, including those who don’t go to university.
We must reject the snobbery that says the only route to social mobility runs through University.
As if only one kind of pathway to success matters.
In Germany, middle-class parents boast about their kids doing great apprenticeships.
But in Britain, too often people think that if they don’t go to university, they are written off by society.
We must have a better offer to those young people.
So how do we do this?
The first issue is that for far too long, we have treated vocational subjects as second class.
And it is getting worse.
This Government recently downgraded the Engineering Diploma from being worth five GCSEs to just one.
A diploma supported and respected by employers.
What kind of message does that send?
That engineering is not a proper subject.
A second class qualification.
Britain needs 2.2 million engineers over the next 10 years if we are to compete with the rest of the world.
But we won’t get them with attitudes like that.
We need to start celebrating success in all its forms.
Ministers should show as much respect for young people whose skills secure them an apprenticeship as those who win places at university.
The next Labour Government will take those skills seriously.
That starts in schools.
We should not follow Michael Gove down the antiquated path that says only the most traditional academic subjects really matter.
My principle is different.
We need to ensure vocational education is seen as just as much of a gold standard as academic education.
And that there are good opportunities to switch between the two.
That should be one of the central objectives of the Government’s curriculum review.
So we need to improve the supply and range of skills.
But that is not the whole answer.
Just as the debate about social mobility has focussed too much just on University education, so too the debate has focussed too much on educational qualifications to the exclusion of what is happening in our economy.
There's a hard truth here: it doesn't matter if people have the skills if there aren't good jobs for them to go into.
At the moment our economy is just not providing enough of them.
The immediate problem is the double-dip recession.
But it’s a much longer term problem than that.
Not enough jobs offer training, a chance to develop skills and potential.
More than four out of ten jobs don’t offer training at all.
Only 8% of companies offer apprenticeships.
And even among our largest companies, only 1 in 5 offer them.
That is an economy not training people to the best of their talents.
That is an economy not working for working people.
We need to challenge the assumptions which have produced an economy like this.
The last Labour Government was too slow to get to grips with this.
The current Government thinks government just needs to get out of the way.
We need a modern industrial strategy to help our firms and sectors compete on the basis of high-value, not low pay.
That is the challenge that faces the next Labour Government.
And that is why I have asked Andrew Adonis to work with Chuka Umunna to take forward this key work on Labour’s industrial strategy as part of our policy review.
Real radicalism will be needed if we are to show the British people that it doesn’t have to be this way.
We’re already coming up with new policies like insisting that companies which want to win big government contracts will have to offer apprenticeships.
And there needs to be a new bargain with employers.
We should respond to employers’ concerns that they don’t have enough influence over the training that young people receive in schools or college.
But at the same time, we need to look at ways that employers are given the right support and incentives to compete on the basis of high wages and high skills.
Central to this vision of the future economy is changing Britain’s short-term economic approach.
The countries that succeed in having a higher skilled, higher paid workforce are those where employers and employees show commitment to each other.
This is the opposite to what this Government wants to do.
Now considering a proposal from the Beecroft Report to make this short-term culture worse by allowing employees to be fired at will.
We need an economy based on long-termism, investment, and training.
Not the short-term, fast buck, take what you can culture that caused the financial crisis in the first place.
So if we are to achieve greater social mobility in Britain we must entrench a new culture of long-termism in our economy.
And it is only by reforming our economy that we can get to grips with social immobility’s evil twin – inequality.
This is something too many British politicians have been unwilling to talk about in recent years.
Inequality matters in itself, and also because it gets in the way of achieving greater social mobility in Britain.
When you look around the world and compare the rates of social mobility, there is a striking fact.
If you are born poor in a more equal society like Finland, Norway or Denmark then you have a better chance of moving into a good job than if you are born poor in the United States.
If you want the American dream – go to Finland.
This isn't surprising. It's harder to climb the ladder when the rungs are further apart.
Inequality means parents have vastly different resources – financial, personal and social – to help their children get on.
I believe inequality shouldn’t be handed down, generation to generation, like the colour of our hair.
Again, there is a difference of approach between myself and the Government.
I firmly believe that inequality and social mobility are linked.
But we have a Government that refuses to see it.
They seem to think we can let those at the top take whatever rewards they think fit and somehow everyone else can just play catch up.
You can’t claim the mantle of social mobility and then make your priority, cutting taxes for millionaires while raising taxes for everyone else.
Inequality makes social mobility far harder to achieve.
And both inequality and social mobility are the product of an education system and an economy which works for too few.
So, if we are serious about creating new opportunities for all the working people of this country, then we must be serious about inequality itself.
We must promote a living wage, create better jobs, train and develop our people better, and make sure that pay is fairer at the top.
That’s the only real way to ensure that the opportunities there are in this country are genuinely open to all, that there are more of them, and that they are fairly shared.
I am proud of the great universities in this country.
And I believe passionately that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed in them.
Like my dad did.
Like I did.
And I want young people in my constituency and across Britain to get into the best Universities.
But social mobility must be about more than that.
It must be about helping everyone improve their life chances.
With better jobs, better training, and better opportunities for the many.
And with a more equal society.
And Labour will be restless in the pursuit of that fairer society.
The Promise of Britain is that the next generation does better than the last.
And we must fulfil the promise of all our young people.
We must fulfil the promise of our country.
It goes to the heart of what social mobility should be about.
It is the Britain I want us to build.
And I look forward to working with the Sutton Trust to make it happen.