Alan Milburn publishes social mobility report: Politics live blog

Rolling coverage of all the day’s political developments as they happen, including publication of Alan Milburn’s social mobility report

1.30pm: Here’s a lunchtime summary.

Doctors have voted to take industrial action for the first time since 1975 to protest against the government’s planned shakeup of their pensions.

Vince Cable has told the Leveson inquiry that “veiled threats” may have been made against Liberal Democrat colleagues about News Corporation’s takeover bid for BSkyB. As John Plunkett reports, Cable, in his witness statement, said he was told that several Lib Dem colleagues were approached by News Corp representatives “in a way I judged to be inappropriate”. “This added a sense of being under siege from a well-organised operation,” he added in his witness statement. Questioned about these comments, Cable confirmed that he was told these veiled threats came in conversations with Frédéric Michel, the News Corp lobbyist, “but can’t be absolutely certain”.

Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former director of communications, has been detained by police investigating alleged perjury at the trial of the Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan.

• Nick Clegg has said the government needs to achieve a “step change” in opening up the professions to people from poor backgrounds. Welcome a report from Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility reviewer, which says that the professions generally remain a “closed shop” (see 12.10pm), Clegg said there was a “huge amount” more to do.

Many of the UK’s biggest companies have already signed up to the Social Mobility Business Compact – this means top employers are agreeing to make their workplaces open and fair. But clearly there is a huge amount more to do – progress has not been fast enough and in some industries the issues are still not taken seriously. There needs to be a step change in professions like medicine, journalism and politics.

We’ll be picking up the pace and keeping the pressure on in the coming months to get more companies flying the flag for fairness as well as looking at what more the government can and should do.


The TUC has accused the government of being “fundamentally dishonest” about its policies towards disabled people.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: “No group of people is more affected by the government’s savage, ideological austerity than disabled workers. It’s no exaggeration to say that when it comes to disability, there is a fundamental dishonesty about government policy.”

Damian Green, the immigration minister, has rejected claims that the government’s crackdown on immigration will deter legitimate foreign students and cost the economy up to £8bn.

Nick Clegg has announced that almost 1,000 two-year-olds are to benefit from free childcare a year early.
As the Press Association reports, he unveiled the changes to introduce greater flexibility to allow more parents to take advantage of the scheme – already used by more than 800,000 three- and four-year-olds. It is intended that 150,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will receive up to 15 hours a week of free preschool education from September 2013, rising to 260,000 in 2014.

• The Ministry of Justice has announced that almost £400,000 been deducted from prisoners’ pay packets to fund services for victims in the first six months of a new government scheme. As the Press Association reports, under the Prisoners’ Earnings Act, which came into effect in September last year in England and Wales, the charity Victim Support receives up to 40% of the wages of low-risk prisoners who work outside jail to prepare for their release. The cash – £383,000 over the first six months of the scheme – pays for support to help victims recover from crime, such as home security or professional counselling.

Ministers have staged a new U-turn – by abandoning plans to trap buzzards and destroy their nests to protect pheasant shoots.

12.10pm: Earlier (see 9.00am) I quoted what Alan Milburn was saying about the prospects for social mobility in the years to come. He was saying that the expansion of the professions would create significant opportunities. But, having now had the chance to have a look at Milburn’s full report (pdf), it is obvious that this silver lining is wrapped around a rather dark cloud. This is Milburn’s first report in his capacity as the government’s independent reviewer on social mobility and child poverty, but three years ago he published a report on access to the professions for the Labour government and today’s document reads like a follow up. Broadly, he is saying very little has changed.

Here are the key points.

• Milburn says the professions generally remain a “closed shop” to applicants from poor background and that attempts to open them up over recent years have made little progress.

The question posed by this report is whether the growth in professional employment is producing a social mobility dividend for our country. The short answer is not yet.

Milburn says across the professions as a whole, “the glass ceiling has been scratched, but not broken”.

The senior ranks of the professions are a closed shop. If social mobility is to become anything other than a pipedream they will have to open up. Unfortunately, the evidence collected for this report suggests that there is only, at best, limited progress being made in prising open the professions. That is not about to change any time soon. Data collected for this report indicates that the next generation of our country’s lawyers, doctors and journalists are likely to be a mirror image of previous generations.

• He says medicine has made “far too little progress” and shown “far too little interest” in improving access to people from poor backgrounds.

Medicine lags behind other professions both in the focus and in the priority it accords to these issues. It has a long way to go when it comes to making access fairer, diversifying its workforce and raising social mobility. There is no sense of the sort of galvanised effort that the Neuberger Report induced in law. That is regrettable, not least because when it comes to both gender and race, medicine has made impressive progress over recent years … The profession itself recognises that the skills which modern doctors require include far greater understanding of the social and economic backgrounds of the people they serve. That is a welcome recognition. It now needs to be matched by action. Overall, medicine has made far too little progress and shown far too little interest in the issue of fair access. It needs a step change in approach.

He says one particular problem is that students need work experience to get into medical school, but that access to this is “often unstructured and informal.

We could uncover little systematic effort on the part of the medical profession to address this palpable unfairness”.

• He says journalism has gone backwards more than any other profession in becoming less open to people from poor backgrounds.

This report finds that journalism has shifted to a greater degree of social exclusivity than any other profession. Without a single representative or regulatory body, responsibility for bringing about change to the media sector sits with organisations’ boards, senior staff, editors, and human resources teams. Our sense is that current efforts are fragmented and lacking in any real vigour. Journalism, with some honourable exceptions, does not seem to take the issue of fair access seriously. Where it has focused on the issue, it has prioritised race and gender but not socio­-economic diversity. That needs to change.

He also says the media industry is the “worst offender” when it comes to abusing internships.

What seems to distinguish journalism from other professions is that interns are substitutes for what in other sectors would be regarded as functions carried out by mainstream paid employees. The practice in much of the media industry is more akin to treating interns as free labour. The problem with that is self-evident. It is possible only for those who can afford to work for free. It means that others – perhaps with equal or better claims on a career in journalism – are excluded from consideration.

• He says all the major political parties “continue to select parliamentary candidates who are disproportionately drawn from better-off backgrounds”.

Of the Coalition Cabinet in May 2010, 59% were educated privately. Some 32% of the final Cabinet under the previous Labour Government were also educated privately. Over recent years, the political parties have made some progress on selecting women and candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds. A similar effort is now needed on their part when it comes to diversifying the socio-economic backgrounds of those they select to be their candidates for MPs.

• He says the civil service has “made progress” in relation to improving access. In 2009 45% of senior civil servants were privately educated. Today, of the 200 top civil servants, 27% were privately educated.

• He says the legal profession is starting to make “real efforts” to improve access, but that progress is still “too slow”.

In some cases the legal sector is at the forefront of driving activity aimed at changing access to professional jobs, whether this is through co-ordinated outreach programmes or by introducing socio-economic data collection. We commend these efforts and would like to see other professions following suit. There is, however, a lot more that needs to be done. The further up the profession you go, the more socially exclusive it becomes. Even more worryingly, entry to the law – and therefore the lawyers of the future – is still too socially exclusive. Overall, law is on the right track. But its progress is too slow. It needs to significantly accelerate.

• He says the government has shown “good intentionality” on the issue of achieving fair access to the professions.

Overall the Government has shown good intentionality when it comes to trying to improve fair access to a professional career, even though it is making more progress in some areas than in others. It needs to be more holistic in its approach and ensure that its efforts are better co-ordinated.

Milburn says the social mobility business compact published by Nick Clegg last year “is to be commended” and he says ministers should publish an annual update on how it is being implemented.

• He says that internships should “no longer be treated as part of the informal economy” because of their importance to young people’s career prospects. The government should find a way of kitemarking quality internships, he says. And there should be transparent and fair selection procedures.

• He says he will soon be publishing two more reports, one on access to universities and one about what the government is doing to tackle child poverty and improve social mobility.

11.43am: Alan Milburn’s social mobility report, Fair Access to Professional Careers – A Progress Report, is available now on the Cabinet Office website (pdf). I will post a summary shortly.

11.18am: Vince Cable’s witness statement is now on the Leveson website (pdf).

11.02am: The Press Assocation has snapped this.

Doctors have voted in favour of taking industrial action over the Government’s pension reforms, the British Medical Association announced today.

10.48am: You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in today’s paper, are here.

As for the rest of the papers, here are some stories that are particularly interesting.

• Graeme Paton in the Daily Telegraph says universities have warned David Cameron that Britain could lose up to £8bn a year because of the government’s crackdown on foreign students.

The heads of universities across Britain suggest that a toughening up of rules surrounding student visas may drive bright applicants towards institutions in other countries.

In a letter to David Cameron, they call on the Government to remove university students from net migration figures to help drive the economy and boost university income.

It follows fears that students are being unfairly targeted as part of a Coalition drive to cut overall levels of immigration.

The letter has been signed by 68 chancellors, governors and university presidents, including those representing a number of elite Russell Group institutions, such as Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Warwick, Leeds, York, University College London and the London School of Economics.

• Tom Newton Dunn in the Sun says the government is going to “name and shame” retailers who do not pass on oil price cuts to motorists.

Greedy petrol companies will today be given “one last chance” to pass on price cuts to motorists — or face Government action.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening has ordered officials to draw up a code of conduct in order to shame retailers out of over-charging.

And in an exclusive interview with The Sun, she said she will enforce it unless companies start delivering cheaper fuel “in days”.

Ms Greening’s department is also devising a new price register so consumers can go online to find the cheapest petrol and diesel — and see who is ripping them off. The Cabinet minister said: “Petrol prices go up instantly when wholesale prices rise, but when wholesale prices fall it can take weeks for them to come down again.

• George Parker and Kiran Stacey in the Financial Times (subscription) says George Osborne’s reputation is on the slide.

Mr Osborne’s reputation as the master strategist – the man who persuaded Britain to embrace austerity and who made the country a “safe haven” – has taken a battering. “Shares in George Osborne have been suspended until further notice,” said one long-serving Tory MP …

Some who know the chancellor say he spends less time these days worrying about whether he will one day succeed David Cameron: he accepts that if the vote was held tomorrow the Tory membership would overwhelmingly back Boris Johnson.

But his supporters insist he will not step back from his role as the government’s key strategist, in spite of the jibes of Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, that he sees the Treasury as “a part-time job”. Fixing the economy and helping David Cameron succeed are the two prerequisites of Mr Osborne eventually becoming Tory leader.


• Jim Pickard in the Financial Times (subscription) says the Foreign Office has been criticised for not buying British cars.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been criticised for failing to buy British-made cars for its major embassies overseas despite the ministry’s own guidance to source vehicles in the UK wherever possible.

When David Cameron arrived in Washington in March for a major official visit he was driven in a Mercedes, the German marque, prompting puzzlement from some observers,

Freedom of information requests made by the Financial Times have established that only three out of 17 cars in the Brussels and Washington embassies were built in this country. The FCO subsequently admitted that fewer than a third of cars in its embassies around the world were made in Britain.

• Ruth Gledhill in the Times (paywall) says David Cameron will preach a message of benevolance towards one’s enemies when he gives a reading at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, David Cameron will say: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

• Tim Shipman in the Daily Mail says David Cameron has developed a “special relationship” with Tony Blair.

David Cameron has developed a ‘special relationship’ with Tony Blair, holding at least eight conversations with him on how to run the country.

Mr Blair visited Mr Cameron’s official country residence of Chequers last July – a meeting that has previously never been disclosed by Downing Street.

The pair have also had at least seven phone conversations since Mr Cameron took the keys to No10, a rate of around once every three months.

10.36am: Here’s the top of the early Press Association story on Vince Cable’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

Vince Cable told the Leveson Inquiry today that he was able to use “an independent mind” to judge News Corp’s controversial bid for BSkyB.
The business secretary was responsible for deciding whether Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of the broadcaster should go ahead before being stripped of his powers in December 2010 when he was recorded telling undercover journalists he would “declare war” on Murdoch while he was considering the £8 billion bid.
Cable said today: “With an independent mind doesn’t mean with a blank mind.
“Most people in public life have views, opinions.
“Probably, if they are politicians, those views and opinions have been on the record and the requirement on me and people in this position is to set those on one side for the sake of making this decision, to consider representations, the evidence, the facts – and decide on that and only on that.”

10.06am: Vince Cable, the business secretary, has started his evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

You can follow the proceedings on our Leveson live blog.

10.00am: Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former communications director, has been detained by Scottish police in connection with an alleged offence of perjury, STV is reporting.

9.27am: Nick Clegg has given a series of interviews this morning to highlight his plans to extend free pre-school childcare. Here are the main points. I’ve taken the some of the quotes from PoliticsHome.

• Clegg said the reforms would amount to “a big change in childcare in this country”.

We’re starting [a pilot] this September, then it goes to 20% of all two-year olds in the country next September and the September after that it goes up to 40% and that’s hundreds of thousands of two-year olds for the first time ever receiving free childcare support with these new flexible rules so that families can juggle family and work and all these pressure much, much more easily than they can right now … I think that’s a big change in childcare in this country.

• He defended the government’s decision to perform a U-turn on the pasty tax. “I just hope that kind of give and take is something that most people will accept is a sign of a listening government, not a government just charging ahead, not listening to anyone at all,” he said.

• He claimed that today’s Unicef report saying spending cuts would increase child poverty in the UK did not take into account measures like the pupil premium that would help children from poor homes.

• He said Alan Milburn was right to criticise the professions in his social mobility report for not doing more to open themselves up to young people from poor backgrounds. But he stressed that it would take time to make a difference.

You can’t turn around something as complex as the lack of social mobility in Britain overnight. Even when there was lots of money sloshing around the system, social mobility still didn’t improve, so it’s obviously a complex issue which you need to deal with through good times and bad, thick and thin.

9.00am: With the Commons in recess, and the Diamond Jubilee extended bank holiday weekend looming, Westminster politics is not really firing on all cylinders at the moment. But we’ve got what could be a lively day ahead at the Leveson inquiry, a speech from the employment minister and Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility. Milburn has been giving interviews this morning and, although there is some evidence that social mobility has stalled in recent years, he struck an optimistic note. I’ve taken the quote from PoliticsHome.

If the pundits and economist are right, then there is the potential for another big social mobility dividend today because the British economy is changing, it’s becoming more professionalised. In fact, in the report I publish today I say that around 83% of all news jobs that are going to be created in the next decade will be professional jobs and as a consequence the proportion of employment in the professions will rise from around 42% to 46%, so there’s a big potential here, providing there’s an equal opportunity for all of those with ability and aptitude and aspiration to get on the professional career ladder and I’m afraid when it comes to that there is a very long way to go.

I’ll be looking at the report in more detail when it is published later.

Here’s the full agenda for the day.

9.30am: Alan Milburn, the government’s reviewer of social mobility, publishes a report. As Shiv Malik and Patrick Wintour report in the Guardian, Milburn is accusing the medical profession of “failing to make ‘any great galvanising effort’ over the past decade to open its doors to poorer students”. Patrick has also written an analysis about how the parties disagree on how to promote social mobility.

10am: Vince Cable, the business secretary, and Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, give evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

11am: Chris Grayling, the employment minister, gives a speech marking the first anniversary of the work programme.

Nick Clegg has also been giving interviews this morning about government plans to extend the free childcare that is available to the parents of young children.

As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another in the afternoon.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog.


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