Professions must be open to all backgrounds, Alan Milburn says

Surgeons Medicine is one of the professions criticised

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Journalism has been wide open for years.

    In the 'quality press' there are examples daily of people who earn their living by writing poor English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Since when has journalism become a profession in this modern age? It certainly used to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    My heart breaks from some of these comments that the attitude is that just because you're working class you're an illiterate thug not worth a second look, how is anyone supposed to compete with this sort of attitude. We don't need special treatment, just judge us on our talent not our background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It's all about the education of the child from day one. If everyone had total equal opportunities, then the system would produce a fair result. It will never happen. People will find ways to pay to improve results for their kids. I don't blame them for that. Unless they are the hypocrite politicians who destroyed the system we have to use, and send their own children to the private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I'm reminded of the Arnold Clark Group recently saying over 80% of applicants for a Motor Trade apprenticeship were "unemployable". If there's a bigger barrier to social mobility than that, I find it difficult to think of.

    By the way for all the whiners - a piece of recent research by Reuters showed 80% of UK millionaires were self-made. The highest figure for any developed economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I graduated in 2001 & got a minimum wage paid job (about £8200) with a well known high street retailer

    11 years on I've worked hard & climbed the ladder to work at head office on a salary over 4 times what I started with

    Employers should open up more entry level positions but I think applicants need to be more realistic with their expectations about starting points & starting salaries

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.


    What are you talking about? A student with 4 A*s would easily get into most med schools (coming from a former medical student).

    Medicine is hardly like law or some other professions, where who you know is more important than what you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The barriers have nothing to do with professions. They are a combination of wealth-based school education and relentless commerical brainwash installing a high value of entertainment in people's minds. In Europe, most kids could freely compete (horror horror) for subsidised top schools and then go to best universities. However, the ruling elite here will never give up their privileges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Getting medical work experience was an absolute pig! I ended up very getting to a GP practice for a day or two and without it I dont know if I'd have gotten in. That said, ALL the unis I visited emphasised that work experience was about commitment, not connections - they want to see you've tried! They are flexible. My class has a great mix of backgrounds and I only know a handful of "posh" kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Unfortunately, too many believe that 'social mobility' means 'artificially increasing the perception of equality by forcing quotas of unqualified or under-qualified people to the top based on the colour of their skin or their gender.' This, rather worryingly, includes my old Law teacher (a woman), who was adamant that there needed to be 'equality' in courts because there were too many white men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    These issues aren't going to be resolved with the likes of Gove in charge. He wants to dismantle our education system and replace it with something akin to the American model. Where you have to pay for everything or go without. Which will mean the rich get richer, and the poor? Well, if we end up in the medical profession in years to come, it won't be in professional roles. Inequality rules :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    28 Minutes ago

    Here's another example of unwanted government interference. Professions should be allowed to admit who they want.
    By which you mean, exclude who they want. Great idea, stop those nasty women and black people penetrating the intimate circle of the private school-boy elite who run the UK. What we need is a return to Victorian values like misogyny & child-abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    19 Hadriana. Poss not but parents have responsibilities & can find out aswell as encourage kids to ask for various info. The reason they dont is that benefits are a much easier option. People with loads of kids get far more money than people who work, wont pay tax, rent,utility bills, dental bills, travelling costs but will be descibed as "disadvantaged" or deprived. These people do not want work

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Journalism is not a profession - it's a job.Professions are staffed by professionals, as the Leveson enquiry shows this is not the case with Journalists.

    Milburn would do better to favour better schooling, ending self regulation and drive to competence based assessments for all. More opportunity is great - driving out the bad from professions would create space for those seeking opportunities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    1 Minute Ago
    Bit of a laugh classing 'journalism' as a profession!! At least the others require some formal qualification other than arrogance and a general disregard for law, privacy, decency... etc.'

    You have obviously not heard of the NCTJ. But that does not surprise me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Education has been slowly eroded for decades. The kids of the failing education system of the 70s, 80s and 90s are now the parents of today's failing kids. Many of them do not care for their children's education. It is now a social problem as well as an educational one. No education, no respect, no hope, no future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Article correct.
    Example: fairly bright kid with predicted ABB at A2 with daddy as Surgeon has great chance of going to Daddie's old med school

    Extremely bright kid 10 A* GCSE and predicted four A*s at A2 but no med background has fight like crazy along with the thousands of similarly talented students to get a chance at med school.

    Old boy network rules!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    If I was unaware of the process to get into a particular field I would research it and endeavour to fulfil the required criteria, I wouldn't expect a goverment scheme to be put into place to do it for me. I guess there is the initial bar to entry if you can't be bothered to find out you obviously aren't that interested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I agree with Telanian (15.), internships are a form of unfair social streamlining, but in addition, might it be prudent to look at job creation before looking at the constituents of said positions? In a market with ever increasing cutbacks, unemployment and job loss, you cannot hope to encourage these sectors to change radically whilst they lose experienced staff they've always traditionally used.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Requirements for getting a 'top' job:
    1. Must have a degree.
    2. Must live in/near London.
    3. Must do an internship.

    Point 3 is only achievable if you have the contacts to get an internship and can afford to live in London without a wage for the duration of it, this after having built up a substantial student debt.

    If you don't meet those three criteria at age 21-25 then forget about it!


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