By Claire West

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has published research ‘Non educational barriers to the elite profession evaluation’ showing that working-class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the UK.

The research is the product of extensive interviews with staff from 13 elite law, accountancy and financial services firms, who together are responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country.

It finds that elite firms are systematically excluding bright working-class applicants from their workforce. Data collected for the project showed that as much as 70% of job offers in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4% and 7% of the population as a whole.

Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, the Chair of the Commission, said:

This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.

Thankfully some of our country’s leading firms are making a big commitment to recruit the brightest and best, regardless of background. They should be applauded. But for the rest this is a wake up and smell the coffee moment. In some top law firms, trainees are more than 5 times likely to have attended a fee-paying school than the population as a whole. They are denying themselves talent, stymying young people’s social mobility and fuelling the social divide that bedevils Britain.

It is time for the rest to follow the lead of the best and adopt policies that make access to a top job genuinely meritocratic.

Dr Louise Ashley of Royal Holloway, University of London, Research Project Lead, said:

Our research finds that recruitment and selection processes which advantage students from more privileged backgrounds remain firmly in place at most elite law and accountancy firms. As such, despite their focus on specific social mobility initiatives, the rate and pace of change is limited.

We make 3 key recommendations for firms wishing to access the widest range of talent to benefit their business and their clients in future; first, amend attraction strategies to encourage higher numbers of applications from students with a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; second, ensure that these diverse students have access to similar levels of support enjoyed by their more traditional peers, in order to navigate the selection process effectively; third, interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed, to ensure that disadvantaged students are not ruled out for reasons of background rather than aptitude and skill.