Social mobility is one of those phrases that politicians use all the time, but what does it mean?
At its core, social mobility means making sure that where you start in life does not determine how far you can go and it is something Britain is not good enough at. In fact, the UK has one of the lowest rates of social mobility of any developed country.
One year ago I, and colleagues from all three major parties, founded the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility to examine the evidence, listen to experts and see if we could agree on what the key issues were. Last week we published our first report, Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility, outlining what we have learned.
It is no surprise that where you go to university will have a big impact on how your career progresses – but key factors which determine where you are likely to go to university (if you go) are set long before the age of 18, or even 16.
What we found was that the point of greatest leverage, where you can have the biggest impact, is before a child even sets foot in a classroom, so up to the age of three. The home environment during these years has a great effect on how a child will fare for much of their school career – starting at a disadvantage can take years to recover from.
What are we talking about here? It isn’t about what kind of house you live in or where, but what goes on in it. Parental bonding, reading to children, a stable environment, all these things matter enormously.
It is a delicate problem to address. Politicians should definitely not be telling parents how to raise their children and I have no desire to see a literal nanny-state. But there is support available to help parents. The recruitment of 4,200 extra health visitors will help in supporting new mums and dads, and the government is also encouraging innovation on Sure Start outreach programmes. This complements work done by voluntary sector groups like Home Start and others.
The problem with many of these programmes is letting those who could benefit most from them know that the support is there.
This is an area which warrants more public debate – how do we best support parents in giving all kids the best possible start in life and ensure that each of them gets the chance to excel?