Session Three: Access into Politics and the Civil Service

This session of the Social Mobility APPG ‘s inquiry into access into leading professions explored how politics and the civil may be more representative of society so that people do not feel alienated from them, as recent developments suggest they could be.

In the first part of the session on politics, Parliamentary Champion of the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme Dan Jarvis MP, and beneficiaries of the scheme Stacy Best and Jasmine Storry, explained how the scheme is not only transforming young peoples’ lives but empowering parliamentarians to think about disadvantage differently and making the case for politicians to themselves be enables of social mobility.

In the second part, the Director of the Bridge Group Nicholas Miller identified the challenges the civil service is facing to become more representative of society, DWP official and social mobility pioneer Nicola Hanns discussed the cultural barriers the civil service must overcome to become intimidating to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and new Cabinet Office Minister Ben Gummer MP confirmed he intends to continue his predecessor’s plans to increase access into the civil service.  A copy of the Minister's subsequent letter to the Chair of the Social Mobility APPG can be found here.

Interestingly, the session provided that similar issues and solutions to widening access into the professions were proposed for politics and the civil service as they had been in the fields of medicine, law, accountancy and finance:

  1. Taking the context a person’s background into account in recruitment and to not simply focus on the most elitist universities;
  2. The importance of high quality careers advice in schools to inform peoples’ choices, as well more targeted university careers support;
  3. Encouraging school-recruiter collaboration, such as offering mentoring schemes and partnerships for work experience and outreach;
  4. The significance of work experience to mitigate networking effects, such as the importance of open and funded internships and placements that do not rely on self-finance;
  5. The importance of making a case for widening diversity and for high profile recruiters to lead by example;
  6. Guidance for employers on how to be involved in widening access schemes and school outreach and support those from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  7. More efforts made by recruiters to alleviate the London centric focus of recruitment, either by regional recruitment or outreach, and at least fully cover travel reimbursement;
  8. More research and evaluation of progression of disadvantaged people once they have entered the profession, especially into senior management positions;
  9. A need for greater and more consistent data transparency for understanding and accountability of each profession;
  10. Support from each sector for evidenced based social mobility programmes that support disadvantaged groups to enter specific high profile professions.

Specific recommendations for access into politics were also raised, such as that MPs should employ a certain number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds to set an example and that the background data of staff should be published. It was also recommended that MPs should support the scheme to fundraise so it may expand to support more people and also become widened to devolved bodies and councils, and also into the Lords if possible.

On the civil service, the there was a call for greater collaboration between departments and to ensure that the culture, perception and challenges of working in the civil service were more open and not intimidating. There was also a call for the civil service to look specifically at progression, performance, and pay, to lead by example for other professions, and for the same rigour on social mobility to be applied to the rest of the civil service as is applied to the Fast Stream.

A full report of the event can be found here.