The “privileged few” – Labour’s response to figures that show top jobs dominated by small elite

Trsitram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, has responded to today’s publishing of a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCP) by citing it as proof that the “government stand up only for a privileged few”. The report, described as the most detailed of its kind ever undertaken, reveals the overrepresentation of the privately educated in many of the UK’s top jobs and institutions.


Alan Milburn, the former Labour Cabinet minister and head of the SMCP, said that the figures show lead to “locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain’s leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be”. It is not the first time that Milburn has used his Government-appointed position to cause a headache – many of the commission’s previous reports have made difficult reading for David Cameron.

The report investigates the educational background of thousands of people from a broad range of industries, including “government, the civil service, the judiciary, the media, business and the creative industries”.

The Guardian reports that the commission found:

“Only 7% of members of the public attended a private school. But 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior officers in the armed forces, 55% of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords and 45% of public body chairs did so.

So too did 44% of people on the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of cabinet ministers, 33% of MPs, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of shadow cabinet ministers.

Oxbridge graduates also have a stranglehold on top jobs. They comprise less than 1% of the public as a whole, but 75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet ministers, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of shadow cabinet ministers, 24% of MPs and 12% of those on the Sunday Times Rich List.

The report says the judiciary is the most privileged professional group. About 14% of judges attended one of just five independent schools (Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys).

And senior armed forces officers are the second most exclusive group, the report says. Some 62% of them went to a private school, and only 7% attended a comprehensive.”

Tristram Hunt responded by saying:

“David Cameron is failing on social mobility – he and his government stand up only for a privileged few. Under the Tories, the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and the rest is increasing, millions of hardworking people are seeing their living standards go backwards and child poverty is set to increase.

“Government policy is at odds with the Commission’s prescriptions. Alan Milburn, rightly, is very clear on the role for schools in ensuring children from deprived backgrounds get the exam results and broader character skills that they need to succeed. That vision is at the heart of Labour’s schools policy. By contrast, Cameron’s schools policy has done away with work experience and face-to-face careers advice, so important for young people, whilst ignoring the important role of children’s character development in schools.”

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