Clegg accused of hypocrisy on social mobility

By Hannah Brenton
Nick Clegg was today accused of hypocrisy as he laid out the government’s strategy to tackle social mobility.
The Liberal Democrat leader promised to create a society where “success is based on what you know, not who you know”.
Mr Clegg pointed to unpaid internships, decrying a system where “your father’s friends” influence your job prospects and promised to eliminate informal arrangements in Whitehall, while encouraging businesses to offer paid schemes and placements to applicants from all backgrounds.
“For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and well-connected,” he said.
“Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities. We want a fair job market based on merit, not networks.”
Baroness Warsi, Conservative party chair, unveiled a new Whitehall internship programme, with schemes for those from poorer backgrounds, while Mr Clegg pledged to make internships for the Liberal Democrat party “name and school blind” with “proper remuneration”.
But Labour shadow minister John Spellar asked Mr Clegg to confirm in the Commons whether his father had helped him acquire a position at a Finnish bank after he left school.
The deputy prime minister responded: “I can. As a teenager I did receive it?-?as I suspect did many people in this House.”
The government’s attack on unpaid internships was part of a wider government policy launch on social mobility, which has also come under fire from both Labour and a senior Tory backbencher.
Mr Clegg pledged to tackle an “invisible ceiling that is crushing the aspirations and hopes and dreams in one individual after the next.”
He announced a number of programmes to help those on low-incomes. The government will expand the apprenticeships scheme – increasing its funding in 2011/12 to over £1.4 billion – increase the maintenance grant to £3,250 for students from poorer backgrounds and create a new £150 million National Scholarship Programme.
Mr Clegg argued that an open, socially mobile society would benefit everyone, not only those at the bottom.
“Fairness is one of the fundamental values of the coalition government,” Mr Clegg said.
“A fair society is an open society where everybody is free to flourish and where birth is never destiny.”
The government will also create a set of key indicators to measure social mobility, establish a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, increase funding for disadvantaged learners post-16 and create a new all-age careers service to be opened next April.
But Tory backbencher David Davis, writing for PoliticsHome, offered a damning assessment of the government’s free schools programme and social mobility strategy.
“The problem today is not just that the policies announced by the coalition will fail to improve opportunity by much,” he wrote.
“The problem is that the coalition’s education policies will actually make social mobility even worse.”
In the Commons, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman said the deputy prime minister had “betrayed a generation of young people”.
“I’m afraid the deputy prime minister gave up the right to pontificate on social mobility when he abolished educational maintenance allowances (EMA), trebled tuition fees and betrayed a generation of young people,” she said.
“For many young people mobility has turned into a bus down to the job centre.”
And the University and College Union (UCU) lambasted the deputy prime minister’s education policies, arguing they pose “the greatest risk to social mobility”.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said education was close to a “silver bullet” for social mobility.
“Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to social mobility, yet since this government took power, we have seen major financial barriers erected in the face of those from low and average-income backgrounds,” she said.
“Nick Clegg has made lots of positive noises about the importance of social mobility, but the actions of the government tell a different story.”
An independent review of social mobility will be conducted by Alan Milburn for the government.