By Claire West
Demos welcomes the Coalition's publication of a Social Mobility Strategy, but urges accelerated attention on in-work progression and early intervention.
Kitty Ussher, director of Demos said:
“In our class-based society, the subject of social mobility can be a great taboo and so the Government is right to tackle this issue head-on. In particular it is reassuring that the commitment to family nurses, health visitors, flexible paternal leave, formal internships, focus on young school leavers and more apprenticeships are being maintained. All of these are areas that Demos research has shown to be crucial to improved outcomes.
“But there is a huge way to go, as the Government acknowledges. We are nowhere near cracking the issue of in-work progression — in particular how low skilled workers, and those with children, can make the transition to so-called middle class and professional jobs.
“While this government is right to highlight the importance and potential of early intervention projects, there are huge structural changes that need to be made in Whitehall spending decisions to make early intervention the first option rather than an optional extra.
“Finally, the strategy does not acknowledge the effect that the cuts agenda will have on social mobility. If councils cut youth services, as well as non-essential services for children and the elderly, this will reduce the earnings potential of informal carers, many of whom are already finding it hard to juggle work and family commitments.
"The Coalition's life cycle approach, measuring across a range of indicators is a positive step forward. But the Government will need to work hard to ensure that the social mobility indicators it sets are supported by activity across all levels of government. "
Jen Lexmond, an early years expert at Demos said:
“The Coalition is right to put parenting at the heart of it’s strategy, but it cannot divorce it from the issue of poverty. While our research has shown that effective parenting is the crucial factor in life chances, effective parenting is more likely to be found in financially stable households; the pressures of living on a very low income make consistent parenting more difficult.
“Demos’ work on early years has shown how vital the role of Family Nurse Partnerships and health visitors are in supporting parents to give their children the best start in life. Creating thousands more of these positions is a vital start that should be paired with increased training so support goes beyond the health-related aspects of child development. More health visitors must be allocated to deprived areas so that they can take time to build relationships with vulnerable new parents.
“Offering 15 hours a week of free pre-school education to two year olds is a groundbreaking policy that will make a difference to thousands of children’s lives.”
Dr Matt Grist, education expert, said:
“Both young people and the British economy are crying out for more good quality apprenticeships. The forgotten half of young people who don’t go to university are poorly served and it’s high time that getting a degree ceased to be the only route to success. So the commitment in this strategy to raising the standards of apprenticeships is particularly welcome. The next step should be to make apprenticeships longer as well as harder, in order to convince industry to get involved and to make apprenticeships genuinely self-funding. It is only over the course of three years that employers receive a good return on investment, since it takes a year or so for an apprentice to become productive. Yet at the moment, many apprenticeships can be completed in a year.
“Demos has advocated building stronger relationships between employers and schools. Getting people into schools to talk about the jobs they do is a useful first step on the road to doing this.
"The focus on school readiness is welcome but as Demos has long argued literacy and numeracy recovery programmes should play a much bigger role in 7-11 education. Early intervention here will do much to improve English and maths attainment at GCSE level, the latter being another welcome aim of the strategy."
Claudia Wood, welfare expert at Demos said:
“Poverty is the missing link in what otherwise is a very positive strategy. The Government had recognised the need to improve social mobility to tackle poverty, but seems less prepared to consider the opposite can also be true — that it should also fight poverty to improve social mobility. The two concepts interact and mutually reinforce one another — so if you are in poverty the less socially mobile you may be, and the less socially mobile you are the more likely you are to be trapped in poverty.
“We have yet to see whether the forthcoming Child Poverty Strategy will tackle this complexity head on, but it is not encouraging that a strategy on social mobility has been drafted as a separate document. Two separate strategies risks incoherence for these two highly interrelated issues”