Nick Clegg: No room for complacency in battle against ‘pernicious’ social immobility
Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last night warned senior figures in business and government against complacency in the fight to improve “pernicious” social immobility in Britain.
At a reception in KPMG’s central London offices, the ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats lamented the “cast-like rigidity” of social segregation in Britain compared to other countries.
He praised the work carried out by firms including KPMG, who this year received the Queen’s award for Enterprise for Promoting Opportunity in the workplace, and urged business to “stick with” the social mobility agenda.
“The spirit of social mobility is simply the aspiration to live in a society where how well you do is not determined by the circumstances of your birth,” he told representatives from business and government.
“In that sense, it is a wholly uncontroversial idea, but it is nonetheless an idea which is thwarted at every single turn.”
Mr Clegg singled out three key areas for improving social mobility in Britain. Firstly, tackling the “crippling distinction” between academic and vocational qualifications, ensuring that focus is kept on improving the chances of the youngest children from most disadvantaged backgrounds, and persistence.
“You can’t shift something as entrenched and pernicious as social immobility in British society unless everyone sticks with it for a long, long period of time,” he said.
He added: “That’s why not only is it important that politicians should seek to work across party boundaries on this subject. It is indispensable that business also extends its hand to others, to trade unions, to government, to the non-governmental sector, as it is increasingly doing.
“KPMG and representatives of other companies here are real exemplars in this. If we can keep doing it, I think it will make a tremendous difference.”
Mr Clegg was speaking after Kenneth Olisa, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, presented 21-year-old KPMG Manchester apprentice Sinéad Grennan with the Queen’s award on promoting opportunity.
Mr Olisa said: “The citation is wonderful for KPMG. It’s terribly important to say that these things aren’t just handed out, there are only three Queen’s awards for Enterprise for promoting opportunity in London this year. So, to win one is massively prestigious.
“The panel that decides these awards is unbelievably rigorous on stripping out people that are self-promoting, haven’t really met it, haven’t delivered the full benefits. And in your particular case, one of the big reasons that you’ve won it at KPMG, is it is an organisational commitment, it’s not just a function within a department.”
Ms Grennan, who is two years into the KPMG’s 360 apprenticeship programme, said she was “very honoured and very proud” to be accepting the Queen’s Award on behalf of the firm. She joined the firm two years ago after representatives from KPMG visited her old school where she was working during her gap year.
Unsure whether or not to go to university, KPMG offered Ms Grennan an alternative means of pursuing a career as a chartered accountant.
“I am going to end up exactly the same as what I would have done with a degree,” she said. “I definitely think it’s been the best for me. I’ve done so many things that I’d never have been able to do; things like this, talking at the House of Commons.”
Melanie Richards, Vice Chair of KMPG UK, said: “This is a celebration of the work that all of my colleagues have done in pushing this agenda forward.
“I’m really proud of the firm, as you might imagine, and I’m proud of the fact that we’re so committed to this agenda. I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made, but of course that wouldn’t have been possible with not just the colleagues in this room but many of you who have collaborated with us, over the years.”
“I know that it’s only through working together, sharing best practice that we’re going to be able to transform the social mobility landscape.”
Earlier this year KPMG was placed second on the inaugural Social Mobility Employer Index.