Live Urgent Question House of Commons


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Live Urgent Question

Live coverage of the urgent question in the House of Commons tabled by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable on the Social Mobility Commission.


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for no longer than half an hour, not

because it isn't important, it is

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extremely important, but so is the

eight hours of protected business to

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follow. I have to balance these

considerations, so self discipline

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is required. Urgent question,

surveys and cable.

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Can I ask the Minister for the

Cabinet Office if he will make a

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statement on the resignation of the

board of the social mobility

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commission.

Minister Robert

Goodwill.

Thank you for taking this

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a urgent question, which gives us an

opportunity to underline our

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commitment to improving social

mobility in our country. I'm

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extremely grateful to Alan Milburn

for his work as chair of the social

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mobility commission over the past

five years. We are already told that

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we plan to appoint a new chair, and

will hold an open application

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process for that role. To ensure we

continue to build on this important

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work and the foundation laid by Alan

and his team can be built on.

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Tackling social mobility is the

department's priority. We have made

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real progress in recent years, the

attainment gap between disadvantaged

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children has narrowed.

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We are putting more money into the

early years than ever before,

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spending a record 6 billion per year

on childcare and early education

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support by 2019-20. We are

increasing the number of school

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places with 4.9 billion more

children. There are more than 15,500

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more teachers and state funded

schools in England than in 2010.

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£140 million will target resources

to support school performance and

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pupil attainment at the schools that

need it most. The attainment gap, as

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highlighted by the commission,

between disadvantaged pupils and

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peers has narrowed since we

introduced the pupil premium, now

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worth 2.5 billion per year. In 2011,

a Coalition policy, we continue to

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embrace. We know there is more to

do. We focused on areas of the

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country with the greatest challenges

and fewest opportunities, including

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72 million in the queue was the

opportunity areas. We will publish

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plans for the second six areas in

early November. The outgoing chair

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of the social mobility commission

welcomed the launch of the programme

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and the government's commitment to

addressing disadvantage, remaining a

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priority for the government.

Sir

Vincent cable.

I don't think

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conservatives have ever claimed to

be a party of equality, but they

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have always claimed to be a party of

equality of opportunity, in other

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words, social mobility. When the

Prime Minister took office, her

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first speech set out clearly the

objective to do everything to help

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anybody, whatever their background,

to go as far as their talents will

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take them. So what does the

resignation of the commission tell

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us about the government's success in

achieving that objective? The

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chairman of the commission was very

pointed, he said, the worst possible

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position in politics is to set out a

proposition that you want to heal

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social division, and then do nothing

about it. It would be very

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difficult, I think, to spin the

resignation of the commission in

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partisan terms, because Alan Milburn

has served conscientiously, Labour

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Coalition and Conservative

governments, amongst the

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commissioners who have resigned

along with him, one was a highly

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respected former Conservative

Secretary of State for Education.

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Very specifically, can I ask him

about the most recent of the mission

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reports, to which he would no doubt

be able to respond. Why is it that,

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of the 65 social mobility,

everywhere from East Somerset to

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Midlands cities, or why only five

has been covered by growth deals

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negotiated by the government? And

since the report makes the point

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that geographical vision in Britain

is now more extreme than in any

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other country in Europe, will the

government consider reinstating the

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regional growth fund, which played

an important role in the Coalition

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in addressing that point. And since

the barriers to social mobility

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often rest in incentives to work,

can I ask the Minister if he will

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explain how the 3 million cuts in

the work allowance will affect

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people's willingness to work once

they're in low-income employment.

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Finally, the specific points, the

commission is even handed, and it

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praises the Secretary of State for

Education for her commitment, but

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what does it say about the

government's commitment when the

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most committed and conscientious

member of the Cabinet is Pezzella

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over a 60% cut in apprentice should,

blocking social mobility through

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vocational education, under 6% will

cut in school spending in the next

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five years.

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In conclusion, can I ask if he would

agree with the chair's point that

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Brexit is now sucking the lifeblood

of Government. The extreme Brexit of

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withdrawing from the single market

and the customs union, the biggest

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casualties will be the social

mobility cold spots that voted for

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Brexit.

Thank you very much indeed,

Mr Speaker. I would not recognise

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the characterisation that the Right

Honourable gentleman made that we

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have done nothing, in his words, to

address social mobility.

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Universities that make university

entrance, where 43% of disadvantaged

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children are more likely to go to

university than in 2009. We have 1.9

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more children going to outstanding

schools than in 2010. I wouldn't

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recognise that characterisation. We

have made particular progress in a

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number of areas, including our free

childcare offer of 30 hours, which

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helps working families cope with the

cost of childcare and juggling work

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at the same time. I would reaffirm

the fact that we are fully committed

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to this. He talked about the

geographical spread. In the report,

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you will see that it is patchy, with

parts of London demonstrating real

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need for more assistance. We need to

look at the Midlands, where more

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needs to be done, which is why we

have designated the 12 opportunity

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areas in those areas where we've

need to address children in early

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years, in terms of aspiration to get

into employment, to get good

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qualifications, and the most

difficult nut to crack - the home

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learning environment. Many children

are starting nursery provision

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without the basic skills that many

children from better off backgrounds

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would have. Can I also make clear

that whilst Brexit is very important

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to the Government, we can walk and

chew gum at the same time. We are

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absolutely committed to ensuring

that we continue this process of

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improving social mobility for

everyone in the country.

Can I

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remind the House of what I said

fewer than ten minutes ago, which is

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that the question is about the

resignation of the board. Questions

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should be about that matter. It is

not unreasonable to hope that the

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same might be said also of answers.

Many people were inspired by what

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the Prime Minister said on the steps

of Downing Street when she took

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office. Would my honourable friend

look at the idea of using this

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opportunity of reforming the

commission to create a social

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Justice commission at the heart of

Downing Street and using it to

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assess the impact on every bit of

domestic legislation on social

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Justice?

I will put on record our

commitment to maintain the social

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mobility commission. It has done

great work in the last five years. I

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once again paid tribute to Alan

Milburn for his work as chair. We

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need to bring in some new people and

refresh the commission, some people

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that will hold us to account, hold

our feet to the fire to make sure we

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have a good spread of representation

on that commission.

Angela Rayner.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I

thank the right Honourable member

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for Twickenham for securing this

urgent question. Once again, this

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Prime Minister is not for turning

up, nor is the Education Secretary.

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No wonder the former chair of the

commission said that number ten were

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no longer listening. Perhaps the

Minister can actually answer the

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questions he raised in his

resignation letter. Is the

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Government really committed to the

commission as an independent body?

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Although the Government have said

they put on record their commitment,

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what do they see as its role? And

what will its remit be now? And how

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much funding will the commission

have? Can he confirm that in the

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years since the commission's 2016

report, the Government has not

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adopted a single one of its

recommendations and tell us if the

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commissioners raised that with

ministers before resigning? The

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report said Britain had a deep

social mobility problem, an unfair

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education system, a two tier labour

market, and imbalanced economy and

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an unaffordable housing market, so

what are the Government actually

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doing about it? Was this a factor in

those resignations? On the labour

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market, the Prime Minister made a

defining speech on insecure jobs.

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She has been developing an expertise

on that lately. What ever happened

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to the Taylor Review? In education,

has the Minister seen the

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commission's findings on the

teaching workforce, an early years

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and kids in care who are still

denied the 30 hours' entitlement?

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And has he listen to the

recommendations on housing, regional

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transport infrastructure and

rebalanced investment to create more

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decent jobs across the country? Mr

Speaker, when a former Tory

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Education Secretary resigns from a

Tory Government commission, we know

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this goes well beyond party

politics. In his resignation letter,

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the chair of the commission said

they were resigning because he had

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little hope of the current

Government building a fairer

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Britain. If their own commission, Mr

Speaker, has little faith in this

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Government, then why should the rest

of us?

Thank you very much indeed,

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Mr Speaker. I am happy to answer

this question on behalf of the

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department, as the Minister for

children and families and also the

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minister responsible for opportunity

areas, which I think demonstrates

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our commitment to tackling social

mobility in the cold spots, as laid

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out by the commission itself. She

asked that the Government is

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committed to the commission - the

answer is yes, absolutely. She asked

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about the role of the commission -

that will not change. I pay tribute

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to the commission for the work it

has done, and to Alan over that

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time. She asked about the workforce

and education. We have 457,000

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teachers working in state funded

education at the moment, more than

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15,500 more than before. She drew

attention to the 30 hours of free

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childcare - that is an example of

how we're helping working families.

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We have a high uptake. There are

parents up and down the country who

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have told me it has transformed

their lives, enabling them to work

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and have childcare and indeed put

£5,500 in their pockets. I am

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pleased with what we're doing to

address social mobility. To listen

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to the party opposite, you would

think that everything was beautiful

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when they power. In many cases, we

are still sorting out the mess they

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left behind.

Can the Minister

confirm when the Government is

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likely to publish its social

mobility strategy, and are there

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likely to be any changes in the

light of what Alan Milburn has said

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in recent days and his resignation?

I thank the honourable lady for the

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question. We continue to work hard

and our social mobility action plan

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and plan to publish it soon.

Thank

you, Mr Speaker. Alan Milburn is no

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longer a member of this House, so he

observes the Government from a

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slightly detached point of view, so

when he says that this Government is

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riddled with indecision,

dysfunctionality and a lack of

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leadership, I have to say to him, he

should see it from where I'm

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standing. It is a lot worse than

that. We are approaching a perfect

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storm in this country of freezing

wages in real terms, cutting

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benefits in real terms, and rising

prices. A perfect storm where the

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poor will pay for the failure of

Government policy. I ask the

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Minister, what assurances do we have

that given that the Government

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continues to be obsessed by Brexit

that he will listen to any advisors

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in this policy area that are

appointed in the future?

Alan

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Milburn has advised the Government

through his commission over the last

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five years, and much of his advice

has been taken on board by the

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Government. Indeed, when he was

publicising his most recent report,

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he made some very constructive

comments. I stand by the record as

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outlined in the answer to the

initial question from the Right

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Honourable gentleman. We have made

progress but there is much left to

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be done. The best way of getting

families out of poverty is to ensure

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that they get into the workplace.

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We have record levels of employment.

The best way to get children the

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best opportunities in life is to

deliver a great education, and we

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are delivering a better education

for more children in England than

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ever before.

I was pleased to hear

from the Minister about the home

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learning environment, alongside our

good schools, giving true

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opportunity to our children. On this

side of the House, we want our

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children to go as far as their

talents will take them. Does this

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opportunity not give a renewal which

we can take?

I remind her again, the

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resignation of the board, that is

the matter of which we are treating.

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The home learning environment is one

of the toughest nuts to crack. Many

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children do start education without

the basic skills they need, and much

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of that may be to do with the fact

that no one reads to them, that the

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television is not switched off. We

want to address that challenge.

The

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Minister has come here and is doing

his best to ignore the fact that the

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entire board of the social mobility

commission have resigned. Why does

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he think that is? Can he give us an

answer?

Well, if she looks back over

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the last five years, she will see

that Alan has been supportive of

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much of the action we are taking.

Such as the Department for Education

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opportunity areas. We are all

working together to tackle the

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challenges of social mobility. I

think this will give us an

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opportunity to refresh the

commission, to improve the diversity

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of the commission, and I can assure

the House that we're not in a

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position of employing someone who is

a patsy for the Government. I want

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someone who will continue to hold

our feed to the fire and to work

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constructively with those in central

Government and local Government to

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deliver these solutions.

Before the

commission resigned, did they

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suggest one radical idea for driving

social mobility through the

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education system? Why don't we

concentrate on the children from the

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most deprived backgrounds and most

deprived postcodes, give them an

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intelligence test at 11 for which

they cannot be chewed up, put them

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in special schools and have a

rigorous academic education? Why do

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we call these schools grammar

schools?

That wasn't one of the

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suggestions he made as he was

leaving, as I understand it.

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Although the question was delivered

with lucidity, it suffered the

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disadvantage of being utterly

irrelevant to the resignation of the

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board. Perhaps we could again return

to the matter in hand. Let's take a

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good, honest, reliable citizen.

There are so many to choose from on

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both sides! Peter Kyle.

I will

struggle to live up to that! Alan

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Milburn said he has resigned because

of dysfunction in the Government and

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a lack of fermentation. The minister

in his response gives the impression

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he resigned because all the work was

already done. Can he once again give

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us a clearer explanation - why did

this board resign, from his

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perspective?

Well, Mr Milburn was

already told on the 22nd of November

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that while the post would be

readvertised he would not be

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expected to apply, so in terms of

the resignation, as he described it,

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we were looking to refresh the board

and bring in some new blood, and I

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think that will give us an

opportunity to improve the

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functioning of the board. This is no

personal reflection on Alan Milburn

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or the work he has done. He has been

very good over the five years he has

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done the job and help us to account

and help our feet to the fire, as

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the commission was designed to do.

Needless to say, all members are

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honest. That goes without saying...

Reports reproduced -- reports

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produced show who... While there is

more work to do, does the Minister

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believe that there is progress we

should be proud of?

Absolutely,

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there are parts of the country were

tremendous progress has been made,

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not least in London, not only in

education but in other areas, it has

0:19:080:19:12

shown the way ahead. I am optimistic

as our 12 opportunity areas get into

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full implementation that we will see

improvements in those areas and we

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will learn lessons that can be

applied elsewhere around the

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country.

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Is the falling social mobility

reported today good reason for the

0:19:270:19:30

commission to resign, or should it

be the government resigning for its

0:19:300:19:33

failure?

I'm aware of the Joseph

Rowntree Report on relative poverty.

0:19:330:19:41

Can I point out to the honourable

gentleman that absolute poverty has

0:19:410:19:46

fallen by 300,000 since 2010, and

pensioner poverty remains close to a

0:19:460:19:51

historic level. That poverty affects

people in their everyday lives.

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Maybe people aren't as aware as they

would be compared to real poverty.

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I'm sorry the board has chosen to

resign, this party has done so much

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for social mobility, and I would

consider myself an example. When it

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comes to re-pointing a new board

whether we can look at having more

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than four members to have a bit more

diversity of membership. The

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honourable gentleman makes a very

good point. There is no limit on the

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number on the board. It had almost

ten at one time. I hope the

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publicity surrounding this question

today may encourage people to apply

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to be on the board. We want a wide

cross-section of applications, not

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necessarily somebody that has been

involved in politics, but someone

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that is at the cutting edge of

delivering solutions. The board

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members have clearly become

exacerbated by the UK Government

0:20:510:20:54

failing to acknowledge and act on

their work lifting people out of

0:20:540:21:01

poverty, doesn't the Joseph Rowntree

foundation today highlight and

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exacerbate that? I think the report

from Joseph Rowntree on relative

0:21:030:21:09

poverty will always of course

perfect changes in levels of

0:21:090:21:14

pensions, and levels of employment.

An unfortunate side-effect of that

0:21:140:21:22

would be that relative poverty would

increase. There are now over 300,000

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people in absolute poverty, a figure

important for them in everyday lives

0:21:290:21:32

as they shop for Christmas.

As the

new board is formed, one of the key

0:21:320:21:38

areas of expertise we need is to

build on record employment as for

0:21:380:21:42

the first time ever those entering

in work will continue to get work

0:21:420:21:47

from their job coaches, unlocking

potential to keep their work,

0:21:470:21:51

increase hours and pay, and progress

within work. Can that be a real

0:21:510:21:55

priority for a new board member.

I

think there are a number of areas of

0:21:550:22:01

experience and expertise we wish to

see from new board members. This is

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an opportunity to refresh the board,

and I look forward to an aspiring

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chair of the social mobility

commission to take forward the work

0:22:090:22:12

that Alan Milburn set the

foundations for.

The Minister's

0:22:120:22:18

attempt to divert attention from

what has happened has not worked. Is

0:22:180:22:23

he in Paris that according to the

Rowntree Report, the government has

0:22:230:22:27

presided over a record increase in

poverty, particularly amongst young

0:22:270:22:31

people and pensioners.

Once again, I

must repeat that while there are

0:22:310:22:40

changes in relative poverty,

absolute poverty has fallen.

0:22:400:22:47

Education is key to improving social

mobility, so will the Minister

0:22:470:22:51

ensure that the new commissioners

who are appointed recognise that the

0:22:510:23:00

proportion of pupils attending good

or outstanding schools has increased

0:23:000:23:04

from 66% in 2010 to 87% today.

One

of the best routes out of poverty,

0:23:040:23:15

out of the trap that social mobility

failures put people in, we have more

0:23:150:23:24

people from underprivileged

backgrounds go to university.

0:23:240:23:33

In the years I worked in the

university sector, a great deal of

0:23:330:23:37

time was spent going out to schools

to in Courage schools from all

0:23:370:23:41

background to apply to university,

what message does it send when the

0:23:410:23:45

chairman of the committee 's aunt

and says the government does not

0:23:450:23:48

have time for social mobility?

That

is not the case. Social mobility is

0:23:480:23:55

absolutely at the top of my priority

list, and the Prime Minister's

0:23:550:24:02

priority list, delivering social

mobility is something we are

0:24:020:24:04

committed to and the evident already

given in terms of progress in many

0:24:040:24:08

areas, including university bears

testament to that.

Rather than

0:24:080:24:15

appointing politicians as

replacements to the board, would my

0:24:150:24:20

right horrible friend consider

people with experience, because I

0:24:200:24:25

can suggest a list of brilliant

people that do incredible work that

0:24:250:24:28

he might want to consider.

Absolutely. When we open the

0:24:280:24:34

process, and indeed, I must make it

clear that Alan Milburn was told

0:24:340:24:39

there would be an open process,

opening up the selection, and he

0:24:390:24:44

said in that letter he would not

apply for that. I hope we will get a

0:24:440:24:51

wide range of applicants, to choose

the best with the best ability, to

0:24:510:24:55

help us in moulding our future

policies in terms of improving

0:24:550:24:58

social mobility.

Why hasn't the government adopted

0:24:580:25:02

any of the recommendations of the

social mobility commission since

0:25:020:25:06

2016? How does he expect to attract

new commissioners when he ignores

0:25:060:25:10

the important work they do

0:25:100:25:14

new commissioners when he ignores

the important work they do?

We

0:25:140:25:14

haven't ignored the work they do.

The social ability index has been a

0:25:140:25:19

useful tool for the government in

prioritising how it should address

0:25:190:25:23

some of the problems, and the

opportunity areas, some of which

0:25:230:25:26

announced in September, they are

targeted at the areas identified by

0:25:260:25:32

the social mobility commission in

its cold spot programme.

Alan

0:25:320:25:36

Browne.

The BMJ journal report

estimates that up to 120,000 deaths,

0:25:360:25:48

Scotland's children's Commissioner

threatened to take the UK Government

0:25:480:25:52

to court over Universal Credit. Life

expectancy has fallen for the first

0:25:520:25:56

time in decades. What change is the

government going to make, what's it

0:25:560:26:03

going to do to get a new independent

commission in place to hold the

0:26:030:26:06

government to account?

The recruitment process will

0:26:060:26:10

commence as soon as is all, we will

ensure we get the best people to

0:26:100:26:14

advise us, and to advise this House

in the progress that we continue to

0:26:140:26:19

make. The situation has improved

since 2010, and we continue to

0:26:190:26:23

ensure that it will improve in the

future.

0:26:230:26:28

With all the board members

resigning, and with the release of a

0:26:280:26:31

new report today by the Joseph

Rowntree foundation, it shows that

0:26:310:26:35

there has been a 5% increase in lone

parent families in poverty since

0:26:350:26:40

2010-11. Does the Minister agree

that the government's ambition for

0:26:400:26:45

social mobility has failed?

Our 30 hours free childcare offer is

0:26:450:26:54

available to lone parents that only

need to earn £6,500 a year to

0:26:540:26:59

qualify. It is an opportunity for

low and parents to get the

0:26:590:27:02

workplace, put that money into the

family budget, and get themselves

0:27:020:27:08

and their families out of their

situations.

Can the Minister assure

0:27:080:27:14

us that unlike Norwich, his own

social mobility opportunity board,

0:27:140:27:20

where they have appointed a crony,

would you consider allowing a select

0:27:200:27:24

committee to appoint this public

position in future?

I actually

0:27:240:27:30

thought the honourable gentleman was

better than that, we have some great

0:27:300:27:33

people on the board in Norwich, and

I look forward to working with them

0:27:330:27:38

to improve better opportunities for

people in Norwich.

The Minister is a

0:27:380:27:44

plain speaking Yorkshire, and I

wondered whether he could those

0:27:440:27:47

attributes to explain why he thinks

the whole of the board resigned.

0:27:470:27:54

I think, as I made clear, we need to

refresh the board, and the board

0:27:540:28:02

have been very effective. We had a

recruitment earlier in the year,

0:28:020:28:06

when we didn't feel we have the

right calibre of new people coming

0:28:060:28:10

in. This is a great opportunity to

get new blood onto the commission,

0:28:100:28:14

and make sure we can continue the

work as started by Alan and his

0:28:140:28:19

board, to ensure we continue to

identify the challenges in terms of

0:28:190:28:23

social mobility in this country, and

identify the best ways of addressing

0:28:230:28:26

them.

If everything the Minister

says is true, why is it that Gillian

0:28:260:28:33

Shephard, a Conservative member of

the board was absolutely livid about

0:28:330:28:38

the way the government had treated

the commission?

I can't speak for

0:28:380:28:44

the right honourable lady, but as I

say, we had the opportunity to get

0:28:440:28:49

new people on the board. A number of

numbers on the board had been

0:28:490:28:53

long-standing, and a refresh of the

board and bringing new people in,

0:28:530:28:57

whilst at the same time recognising

the contribution made by existing

0:28:570:29:00

members of the board, gives an

opportunity to increase diversity

0:29:000:29:04

and experience of that particular

body.

Could the Minister confirm

0:29:040:29:15

whether he or the Education

Secretary have had the chance to

0:29:150:29:18

speak to any of the board since

their resignation? And indeed,

0:29:180:29:22

whether they have been able to

establish whether the whole self

0:29:220:29:26

closure of our children's centres

across the country and the 25 in

0:29:260:29:29

Warwickshire have contributed.

Secretary of State spoke to Alan

0:29:290:29:37

Milburn on 22nd November. I

understand the other members that

0:29:370:29:43

attended the resignation have

written letters that have not been

0:29:430:29:46

made public, which is interesting.

One of the challenges for local

0:29:460:29:52

government is how to deliver good

services to children, and the

0:29:520:29:56

children's centres are one way to do

that. But the children's Centre in

0:29:560:29:59

my own constituency, the real

problem is the kids aren't here,

0:29:590:30:05

they stuck at home, their parents

might bring them in. Ministers

0:30:050:30:10

around the country will demonstrate

better ability.

The lack of

0:30:100:30:18

government seriousness in the issue

of social mobility, which is what

0:30:180:30:22

the resigned commissioners claimed

is evidenced by the millennial 's,

0:30:220:30:28

the generation earning less than the

generation before. Did that push

0:30:280:30:31

them over the edge? Under

discovered, things can only get

0:30:310:30:34

worse. -- under this government.

The

honourable lady makes a little pond.

0:30:340:30:41

The East Anglia Co-op are now

selling goods past their best before

0:30:410:30:51

date, but I don't think...

Order. I

know there are only a fuel left, but

0:30:510:31:01

there will be many opportunities to

fully aired this matter, and looking

0:31:010:31:06

at the members standing, I am sure

that if I didn't say that, they

0:31:060:31:09

would find them anyway.

0:31:090:31:12