Professions must be open to all backgrounds, Alan Milburn says

Surgeons Medicine is one of the professions criticised

Related Stories

Professions such as law, journalism and medicine must do more to widen their intake, the deputy prime minister's social mobility adviser has said.

Ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn called for a "bigger drive" to open careers to young people from poorer backgrounds.

Publishing a "progress report" on the issue, he said internship schemes were a "lottery" and no profession had "cracked" widening recruitment.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the issue was still not being taken seriously enough.

'Too sporadic'

In 2010, the former health secretary was tasked by the coalition with looking at the state of social mobility, having performed a similar role for Labour under Gordon Brown.

This came amid concerns that entrants to the professions were coming from an increasingly narrow social group.

Mr Milburn, who stood down as an MP at the last election, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's a series of barriers that, maybe inadvertently, the professions put in the way of those with ability and aptitude from a variety of backgrounds getting even the first foot on the ladder into the professions.

"It's partially about how they provide work experience opportunities, internships, their recruitment processes, where they recruit from."

The report says:

• Efforts to raise career awareness and aspiration in schools are "too sporadic and too unspecific"

• Too many employers are recruiting from "too narrow a range of universities and regions"

• Work experience and internships are becoming more important to job prospects, but they are "still a lottery"

• Selection processes for careers are still "too haphazard"

• The graduate grip on the labour market is "still strong".

Assessing progress on recommendations made in 2009, Mr Milburn said a best practice code for internships had been drawn up, but little had been done to help students from poorer backgrounds afford to take up such opportunities and professions had not reviewed their own practices.

Mr Milburn, who has described the 1950s and 1960s as the "golden age" of social mobility, has suggested legislation may be needed to guarantee fair access to internships if progress is not made on a voluntary basis.

'Socially exclusive'


  • Civil service: Making progress with more state-educated professionals in top jobs
  • Law: On the "right track" thanks to outreach schemes and use of socio-economic data in recruitment
  • Medicine: "Lagging behind" and showing "too little interest" in the issue
  • Journalism: Most "socially exclusive" industry, with efforts to widen access "fragmented" and lacking "real vigour"
  • Politics: MPs still from "disproportionately well-off backgrounds" despite more female and ethnic minority Members of Parliament

The report noted that the legal profession was making "real efforts" to widen its intake, but added that the "further up the profession you go, the more socially exclusive it becomes".

Medicine lacked a "sense of the sort of galvanised effort" to improve access to young people from different backgrounds, while journalism had increasingly become a "degree-only profession".

Overall, the report concluded no profession had "cracked the fair access problem" and "all too often the reality is that the fair access agenda remains sidelined in most professions".

Despite the weakness of the economy, Mr Milburn said employment in the professions was increasing and there was a "prospective dividend" for the country if policies were got right.

"David Cameron is fond of saying: 'We are all in this together,'" he said. "This is a job for government, universities, schools and for professional employers as well."

'Complex issue'

Mr Clegg, who has acknowledged he benefited himself from family contacts early in his career, said social mobility was a "complex" issue and could not be improved overnight.

But he added: "Progress has not been fast enough and in some industries the issues are still not taken seriously. There needs to be a step change in professions like medicine, journalism and politics."

The government has promised to set up a social mobility and child poverty commission, and also recently announced plans for an annual "snapshot" of social mobility by measuring information such as educational achievement, access to professions and birth weights.

Labour have said social mobility is going "backwards" under the coalition and there must be far more opportunities for people not going into higher education.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants said the accountancy profession, praised in the report for its encouragement of non-graduates, was willing to share best practice with other professions about how to offer "flexible routes" to getting qualifications.

"The key is to ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are as able to access the professions as those from more privileged backgrounds," said its UK head Andrew Leck.


More on This Story

Related Stories

From other news sites

* May require registration or subscription


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    4. NW1837
    "Social engineering gone mad!, what happened to if you are good enough you got the job?"
    The problem is about not being allowed into medical school even if you have the qualifications, or not getting that junior doctor training position without the right contacts.
    Beggars belief how can anyone be so dimwitted to think its about letting unqualified people in...

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Very similar arguments are going to appear here that do in "social engineering" and "who should go to uni thread".

    Money helps. Who you know helps. Being gifted helps but probably not as much as the other two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Perhaps we could just send all those 16 yr olds who are having to take remedial classes in reading and writing (Which Labour changes created) straight to the City to become financial "experts", or maybe put them in charge of procurement at MOD?
    Just because any fool can become a Labour MP is no reason to assume poorly educated can run big business
    Labour dumbing down has been catastrophic!NO MORE!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's all about money! Yes indeed you can have a wealth of ignored business talent from less well off circumstances, but unless they have the financial backing most will never be recognized. Heck, sport with the exception e.g. football sees a lot of un-tapped talent. Unless of course mummy / daddy are their with cheque book in hand...I speak from experience!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Fact is, the vast majority of entry into these types of professions is based on the public school old boys network, its a disrgace. Solution, end public schools and tax the rich to provide a decent education for all, then we can have Judges, Politicians and Bankers with some grounding in reality rather than posh little boys who have never done a days work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Oh good! Can we open up politics to people with integrity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is a bit rich given the current members of the Cabinet - not exactly a shining example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    maybe some people from different backgrounds don't WANT to be lawyers, and are happy to do manual jobs? Why not invest in more apprenticeships to allow this to happen more instead of forcing elitist values on everyone as this is both expensive, and ultimately self-defeating?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Admission to safety critical professions such a health care should be entirely on ability.

    This is not suitable area for social(ist) engineering.

    If people from 'disadvantaged' backgrounds cannot compete on fair criteria then somenthing needs to be done about the education/development they are being given - not rigging the selection procedures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    what do they expect? university is now the preserve of those with rich parents, in spite of what is claimed. grammer school education has been destroyed. so, nothing left but the self-perpetuating elite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Social engineering gone mad!, what happened to if you are good enough you got the job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The first priority must be the ability to do the job, nothing to do with background or upbringing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If the government really want to encourage people from all backgrounds to get into the various professions then they might want to look at the cost of going to University in order to obtain the relevant qualifications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Here's another example of unwanted government interference. Professions should be allowed to admit who they want.


Page 18 of 18


More Politics stories



  • Baby being handed overFraught world

    The legal confusion over UK surrogate births

  • Bad resultsBlame game

    The best excuses to use when exam results don't make the grade

  • Police respond to a shooting in Santa MonicaTrigger decision

    What really happens before a police officer fires his gun?

  • Child injured by what activists say were two air strikes in the north-eastern Damascus suburb of Douma (3 August 2014)'No-one cares'

    Hope fades for Syrians one year after chemical attack

  • Lady AlbaGoing Gaga Watch

    Social media's use ahead of the independence referendum

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.