The evidence session this morning looked at the progress of the Social Mobility Commission. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion (the proceedings can be seen at Parliament TV). The new chair, Martina Milburn appointed nearly a year ago (see Education Committee Report of 11th July 2018), was reminded that she had promised to ‘fix the broken windows’ last year. By the end, it seemed like the windows had been boarded up and the structure was awaiting demolition.
TEFS has watched the Social Mobility agenda and the Commission with interest for some time. There is a list of some articles at the end of this latest output below. Taken together they catalogue a sorry tale.
Martina Milburn was accompanied by two others, Sammy Wright, a Social Mobility Commissioner and Sasha Morgan, Director of the Commission. It reminded me of the late Bob Monkhouse and his favourite joke: “I want to have a peaceful death in my sleep like that of my father. Not screaming in terror like the two passengers in the car he was driving at the time”. Setting aside the undoubted talent and commitment of Milburn in her work with the Princes Trust, this morning was terrible and cringe worthy at best. Had they indeed fallen asleep at the wheel. The hearing did not really get to the bottom of what is going wrong. They genuinely appeared puzzled that a commission with so many members, and seven in the secretariat to support them, could be in such a state. But the concerns came thick and fast.
Defining Social Mobility in question.
This was the most alarming aspect of the hearing. The attempts to define Social Mobility were pitiful. The Commission might do well to start with a clear definition before addressing the causes. A good start would have been the work of the OECD. A comprehensive report last year ‘A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility’ looked at the underlying causes and the position of countries around the world with regard to Social Mobility (see also: TEFS 4th May 2018 Social Mobility: It’s the economy, stupid.). Instead the Commission does not appear to acknowledge this pivotal work.
Even the remit was confused. Milburn referred to England, Scotland and Wales that encompasses GB. Yet when appointed to the Chair the statement referred to “The Social Mobility Commission monitors progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England”. The confusion is concerning. Not only is there no coherent plan to promote Social Mobility in England, there is confusion about the extent of the UK.
Diversity of the commission in question.
Openness and transparency in question.
Legitimate questions about a framework document, that had not emerged, and a coherent strategy were met with evasion and delay. It seems that little has been done. One look at the notes for the last meeting on 21st May 2019 about strategy (only posted on line yesterday) confirms there is little detail and a lack of urgency or momentum.
Political engagement in question.
Political bias emerged when Milburn said that the ’opposition’ were unhappy that the recent State of the Nation report had not showed social mobility to be worsening.
“What I found interesting about the State of the Nation report was that I understand that the government weren’t happy because social mobility hadn’t improved and the opposition weren’t happy because it hadn’t got worse.”
This aroused hostility from the committee with member James Frith calling the remark “crass” and “I don’t think that sets any kind of positive intent to start constructive dialogue early on”. Failing to gauge the importance of Social Mobility to the nation and respecting the elected representatives was a major mistake at the outset.
It then turned out that Milburn has only met with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds once. She also admitted, when pressed hard, that the Commission had not responded to the UN Rapporteur, Philip Alston’s assessment of poverty last year despite its damming observations on the UK (Visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland -Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – final report 29 April 2019). Perhaps the Department of Education masters did not approve of a response or simply that the Commission were not aware of it. After all the Commission has so far failed to grasp the contents of key OECD reports. In their recent report of the Adults skills gap they omitted to cite a detailed study from last year sponsored by the OECD, ‘Improving productivity and job quality of low-skilled workers in the United Kingdom’ that reached similar conclusions.
Research in question and a failing mission.
Social Mobility – The New Lie: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria pauperibus’.
December 03, 2017
Social Mobility and the Economy: Another debate, plea and a pledge.
March 30, 2018
Justice for the Social Mobility Commission: A fresh start?
May 24, 2018
Social Mobility: It’s the economy, stupid.
May 04, 2018
Social Mobility, Higher Education and Driving with the Handbrake on.
July 20, 2018
Is the Government admitting to failure of its Social Mobility Measures?: The progress in ten years.
August 03, 2018
Social Mobility Commission: Where are they?
March 22, 2019
Social Mobility Commission – “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
April 12, 2019
The Social Mobility Commission gets out of first gear and gets mobile.
April 30, 2019
Labour Reigniting the Social Justice Bill
June 08, 2019
Members of the Social Mobility Commission.
· Alastair da Costa, Chair of Capital City College Group
· Farrah Storr, Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan
· Harvey Matthewson, volunteer, and part-time Sales Assistant at Marks & Spencer
· Jessica Oghenegweke, Project Co-ordinator at the Diana Award
· Jody Walker, Senior Vice President at TJX Europe (TK Maxx and Home Sense in the UK)
· Liz Williams, Group Director of Digital Society at BT
· Pippa Dunn, Founder of Broody, helping entrepreneurs and start ups
· Saeed Atcha, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Xplode magazine
· Sam Friedman, Associate Professor in Sociology at London School of Economics
· Sammy Wright, Vice Principal of Southmoor Academy, Sunderland
· Sandra Wallace, Managing Partner UK and Joint Managing Director Europe at DLA Piper
· Steven Cooper, most recently, Chief Executive Officer Barclaycard Business, moving to Chief Executive Officer C.Hoare & Co