Milburn back in govt to help 'disadvantaged'

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn

By Laura Miller

Gordon Brown has tasked Alan Milburn with improving the life chances of Britain's poorest children, as a report published today reveals class is still the biggest factor in success.

Children from middle class backgrounds have been the run away winners from an increase in investment in education, the report commissioned by the Liberal Democrats argued.

"Despite progress in reducing child poverty and heavy investment in education, a child's chances of success in Britain today are still largely dependent on the background and earnings of its parents," said Martin Neary, chief executive of Barnardo's and chair of the social mobility commission which published the report.

Only a third of pupils receiving free school meals achieved five GCSEs grade A-C, compared to two thirds of those not eligible, and while the share of poorer children going on to graduate from university had risen by only three per cent, it leaped to 26 per cent among those raised in wealthier families.

Mr Milburn, a former health minister under Blair and outspoken critic of Mr Brown, will return to lead a commission aimed at ensuring children from state schools are given "a fair crack of the whip" when it comes to getting quality jobs in professions such as law and medicine.

His new role will also include looking at the more informal advantages enjoyed by the middle classes, including how children benefit from the networks of their wealthy parents to get work experience, distinguishing them from other candidates during the recruitment process.

Tomorrow the government will set out its strategy to advance social mobility, especially amongst Britain's most disadvantaged children, which will include opening up a "second front" in politics to ensure an equal chance to job applicants from all backgrounds.

The Conservatives have attacked the new emphasis as "class war".

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "This expert analysis shatters the idea that Britain in 2009 is a free and fair society.

"It is an outrage and a tragedy that two children born at the same time in the same hospital should have wildly different life chances based simply on the income of their parents."

The research by the Lib Dem task force follows a series of recent reports highlighting the widening opportunity gap in the UK between children of different social backgrounds.


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