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 74.

    I don't know about other professions, but my girlfriend works as a solicitor. The top law firms will not even consider you unless you have a degree from an elite university such as Oxbridge. As a consequence the vast majority of employees earning the top money in the legal profession are from privileged backgrounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    You go to hospital for a major op. Do you want a surgeon who

    a) Got to be a surgeon by being able, intelligent, well educated, well trained, reliable, responsible, and diligent.


    b) Got extra points for being black or working class?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Ah , all these "closed shops" masquerading as profesional institutions.

    How many are aware that tp prctice medicine in this country you have to be a member of the BMA, the Law society for law etc., etc..

    Yet the "unions " hold the country to ransom in so many ways according to the hard of thinking who post on here.

    Unions look after their members interests yet.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Some professions require a good grasp of the English language. This includes a wide vocabulary and a full understanding of sentence construction and punctuation. The reason is that the written words must be unambiguous. Because of the use of emphasis and body language, the construction of written English is often different to spoken English. These basic skills are neglected in State education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    In North Yorkshire police,being a mason was not enough to get the job, you had to get a very senior policeman relative to get the application on the top of the list! This whole thing is not about education, it is more about self interest and relatives running public bodies as if they owned them! I have witnessed more nepotism in public service than you would see at many private owned businesses!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    48. Bean head

    What are you talking about? A student with 4 A*s would easily get into most med schools (coming from a former medical student).
    My daughter is exactly (predicted 4 A* 3 science + maths ) that and thankfully got 1 offer out of 4, which is better than most of her equally good peers from a new town comprehensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    For professions to be 'open' they must select on a meritocratic basis and in so doing must surely select those which display the traits of a strong education. No surprise this will indirectly lead to majority intake from privileged backgrounds. Any 'fairness' or 'equality' measures aimed at career entrants (to any career or profession) miss the mark. Education, education, education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I question the whole obsession with social mobility.The BBC etc are making the classic, pig ignorant, snobbish assumption that everyone aspires to be middle class.

    Doesn't it occur to these fools that many working class people are quite happy being working class, and their interests and aspirations are best served by helping them with training, decent wages etc?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Those who really want to get into profession - seek opportunities. Those who don't, just sit on their hands, invent excuses and blame everyone around.

    All these 'equality' and 'social mobility' comissions are complete waste of money. Life will never be equal whether you like it or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    If you want to get to the top , you can with hard work. Whats the problem with that ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    "24. Sidney Monroe
    ... you expect me to hire some illiterate thug from an education system your brand of left wing liberalism destroyed. ... shut up. For ever."

    I would have failed the 11-plus. Luckily I got to go to a comprehensive school. I now have an MSc in computing. However I know "forever" is spelt without a space. Or was "ever" the name of the person you were aiming the rant at?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The term "...from poorer backgrounds" really means working-class people.

    So, when we're all well-read, well-bred, well-travelled middling, middle of the road middle-class, 'oo's gonna sweep the roads, empty the bins, dredge the sewers etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Don't worry society will re engineer itself in the near future, summer riots, you haven't seen anything yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    An inclusive good education system for all will sort out the further 'social mobility' issues. The current education and support cuts are are having exactly the opposite effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I worked hard to be a Chartered Accountant and no one thought I could. I went in the normal route, borrowing to pay my exam fees when I got sacked for first time fails (the norm). Others I know have started as school leavers and worked their way up through the different types of qualifications and ended up the same level. If they can do this, where's the restriction??

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The law profession is the last bastion of privelge in the UK. To all intents and purposes a private members club, whose members can charge what they like for their services, that also excludes non members from taking part. No wonder trials and public enquiries are so expensive to the taxpayer.

  • Comment number 58.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Being "disadvantaged" should not be a free ticket to a professional career. Stick with the original plan: to become a professional, study hard, develop expertise, and maintain good conduct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Milburn went to a comp but Blair, Balls, Clegg, Cameron and Osbourne were privately educated, Brown had selection based education. The 50s and 60s were golden in mobility precisely because of the grammar schools. Labour deniged subsequent generations of this opportunity because it was "unfair to select at 11" but now moan when that happens when leaving school. Their aim was to dumb down a nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    We had social mobility, then we scrapped grammar schools because some state educated childern were being left behind. Now they're all equal. They're all left behind.


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