Social mobility; the advancement of the individual, irrespective of birth, gender, colour or class was the underlying reason I entered politics. My inspiration for this was not so much politicians but the great industrial philanthropists of the 18th and 19th centuries with their business ethics, worker engagement and strong principles. And growing up in Liverpool one person stood out to me above anyone else and that was William Hesketh Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, who incidentally entered politics too!
William started work at his father's grocery business in Bolton working his way up the ranks before setting up his own business. Perhaps it was this journey from shop floor to business owner that shaped his outlook on life which was that anyone could achieve given the right support and conditions. His belief in others and his ability to achieve was what inspired me. And it is this notion of support, allowing social mobility that we need to engender in society which creates personal fulfillment and opportunities for all. Business at its best can do it and so can politicians.
In Britain today, social mobility has never been so remote for so many people. Only 1 in 5 young people from the poorest families achieve 5 good GCSEs (including Maths and English) compared with 3/4s from the richest families, only 1/4 of boys from working class backgrounds get professional or managerial jobs and just 1 in 9 of those from low income backgrounds reach the top income quartile, whereas almost 50% of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there.
Such a lack of social mobility is damaging for those individuals who were never able, or allowed to fulfil their potential, for their families, the local community and for the country as a whole. The personal waste is tragic and in the cold light of day, to a number crunching statistician, so is the economic waste too, which surely has to act as a wake up call to all politicians of all parties to do something. In fact, one study has estimated the economic benefits of creating a more highly skilled workforce at £140bn by 2050, an additional 4% of GDP. There is evidence that the demand for skilled workers is currently outstripping supply so there are jobs out there at the top that can't be filled.
I believe I have personal knowledge on this matter, coming from an area where I saw only too clearly those extra hurdles putting achievement a pace or 2 further away from people, as well as living among a few startling exceptions who managed to defy the odds and became 'socially mobile'. It was for that reason I went back to university to study corporate governance, wrote a paper on the character types and personality traits of people who succeed as well as interviewing over 500 school kids from tough areas to see what support and guidance they felt they needed to succeed.
So I have called for the debate on the promotion of social mobility to discuss in the round what the coalition government are doing such as: early family intervention, free education to disadvantaged 2 year olds, introduction of university technical colleges, the welfare programme and apprenticeships. Social mobility won't be achieved by a single initiative. It's about a whole host of interventions, providing small steps at various stages to climb up. There will need to be monitoring of progress and a media strategy to reach out to those people we are aiming to engage.
I am extremely optimistic about the initiatives the government are introducing, but I will only be happy when I see the positive results for the children I go and visit and speak with each week.
Esther McVey is the Conservative MP for Wirral West and is PPS to employment minister Chris Grayling. The Westminster Hall debate on the promotion of social mobility begins at 12.30pm.
Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register.