Dear Prime Minister
It is with regret that I am writing to stand down as Chair of the Social Mobility Commission with immediate effect.
I do so with much sadness. I was appointed Chair by the Coalition Government in 2012 and my term of office has come to an end. I understand the current government will launch an open process for a new Chair in 2018. I will not be
I am deeply proud of the work the Commission has done to champion the case for greater fairness in Britain. Our research and advocacy work has helped put social mobility at the heart of the national debate about the future of our country. All the main political parties now espouse a Britain that is less elitist and more equal, while growing numbers of employers, universities, colleges, schools and councils have developed a shared determination to create a level playing field of opportunity in our country.
I would like to pay tribute to my vice-chair Gillian Shephard for her outstanding work over the last few years: similarly, my fellow Commissioners Paul Gregg and David Johnston. They have all been a joy to work with. From the outset, all have discharged their role as Commissioners in a non-partisan way. I would also like to thank the Secretariat team that have supported us throughout. The cross-party and independent nature of the Commission has been one of its great strengths.
For almost a decade, I have been proud to serve under Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments in various social mobility roles. I remain deeply committed to the issue, but I have little hope of the current government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain. It seems unable to commit to the future of the Commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.
It is disappointing, and indeed puzzling, that appointments to key Commission roles have been left vacant for almost two years. Nor do the protracted discussions about its role, remit and resourcing show any sign of being resolved.
Individual ministers such as the Secretary of State for Education have shown a deep commitment to the issue. But it has become obvious that the government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support. It is understandably focused on Brexit and does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality. I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.
The need for political leadership in this area has never been more pressing. Social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. It is not just the poorest in society who are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially. The growing sense that we have become an us and them society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation. As the Commission’s work has demonstrated, the twentieth century expectation that each generation would do better than the last is no longer being met. At a time when more and more people are feeling that Britain is becoming more unfair rather than less, social mobility matters more than ever.
While the government seems unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda, I have been heartened that others in civil society – from local councils to major employers – are actively embracing it. So I will be establishing a new Social Mobility Institute, independent of government and political parties, to take forward the practical work that is needed to make a reality of my belief in a fairer, more open, more mobile society in Britain.