Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Conservative, Putney 5:37 pm, 12th June 2019

The hon. Gentleman falls into the trap that many of us in this Chamber do: he focuses on inputs, but I want to focus on outcomes. The employment outcome for people is that unemployment has fallen dramatically. When we came into government, youth unemployment had risen by nearly 50%. Having the dignity of work and the opportunity to live a productive life are surely at the heart of how we have a socially just as well as a socially mobile Britain.

We need an evidence-driven systemic approach to get long-term change, and we need to shift away from this incessant debate about day-to-day policies. Yes, we need a welfare system that protects the vulnerable—of course we need a welfare system to provide a ladder out—but the challenges that Britain faces are manifold times more complex than that and need to be addressed in the round.

This House needs to understand that the solutions to unlocking social mobility do not lie only in this House or happen only through Whitehall. If throwing money at the problem had been the way to tackle it, when we came into office in 2010 unemployment would not have already risen dramatically, and schools would have already closed the attainment gap. In reality, however, the attainment gap has started to close since 2010, not before.

Labour needs to walk the talk, but its student fees proposal—scrapping tuition fees—is one of the most regressive redistributions of taxpayers’ money that I have seen proposed by any party in a long time. It would directly channel money to some of the young people in our country who have the best prospects ahead of them and are likely to have had the best starts. I find it bewildering that a Labour party that talks about social justice can think that that is somehow a step in the right direction.

This Government took crucial steps to improve technical education, after years and years of a lack of strategy—frankly, from any previous Government. People want real change on the ground—system change. That is why the Social Mobility Pledge, which I set up, now works with hundreds of companies to improve, I hope, opportunity for millions of young people over time. Communities therefore need to be more involved in opportunity areas—again, that is system change genuinely to improve lives on the ground. I had the privilege of meeting the Bradford Opportunity Area team last week. They were quite keen, of course, to see this Government support the work that is going on there beyond 2020.

It is important that our politics changes. If this House cannot work together on long-term policy change and focus on what it has consensus on—if it is simply arguing about where the divisions lie—we should not be surprised if we have not collectively managed to deliver social mobility for this country.