Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:57 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:57 pm, 12th June 2019

I have said that I will at the end when I have a bit of time.

In 2018, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were proportionally 52% more likely to go to university than they were in 2009. Higher education providers have committed to spend £860 million in 2019-20 on measures to improve access—up significantly from £404 million; in fact, this is more than a doubling since 2009. This Government have also embarked on a long-overdue overhaul of technical education, backed by significant investment. Over 1.7 million people have started an apprenticeship since May 2015. Alongside this, we are introducing T-levels, which will offer a rigorous technical alternative to academic education, available to all.

On children’s social care, this Government take the view that all children, no matter where they live, should have access to the support they need to keep them safe, provide them with a stable and nurturing home, and overcome their challenges to achieve their potential. This Government are committed to improving outcomes for children in need of help and protection. That is why, owing to the work of my Department, my officials and all our teams, and of course all the brilliant social workers on the frontline, our children’s social care reform programme is working to deliver a highly capable, highly skilled social work workforce, with high-performing services everywhere and a national system of excellent and innovative practice.

It is both an economic and moral imperative that we ensure that the skills system works for all—my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney spoke eloquently about why the system really matters—and that it does so up and down the country. That is why we are taking action in every region, at every stage of a young person’s life, to close the opportunity gap. We are targeting extra support at some of the poorest areas of the country through our £72 million opportunity area programme and £24 million for Opportunity North East.

Members made a number of points that I would like to address. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden asked how many academies are in debt. I will be happy to respond to her question in writing, but I can say that the reforms of the last eight years show that autonomy and freedom have allowed the best leaders and teachers to make the right decisions for their pupils to reach their full potential.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East rightly held us to account for our own behaviour in this place. There really should not be any unpaid internships. I remind colleagues of the care leaver covenant, which all Departments have signed up to, meaning that we offer 12-month paid internships to those most vulnerable children who, through no fault of their own, have had to be taken into care.

The hon. Members for Mitcham and Morden and for Bradford South attacked the Government about what steps they would be taking to support children who live in food insecurity. I remind them that we are supporting more than 1 million children with free school meals and investing up to £26 million in school breakfast clubs, providing approximately 2.3 million children aged four to six with a portion of fresh fruit or vegetables each day.