The House of Commons Education Committee has today published a significant report highlighting the disadvantage suffered by white working-class pupils in England’s education system. The first of its kind for seven years, the cross-party report concludes that the Government’s current way of evaluating and funding disadvantage does not take account of the full range of challenges facing underprivileged white pupils. It highlights regional inequalities and a lack of appropriate careers guidance among the barriers facing these students in fulfilling their potential. It was only last year that the Social Mobility Commission made similar findings. Their report ranked the UK 21st on a global social mobility index, well behind most European countries.

The events of the past 12 months have driven many employers to re-evaluate their diversity and inclusion strategy. We have been encouraged to question our own unconscious biases and call out inappropriate behaviour in order to promote a more equal society. However, it is clear there is still more work to be done. Many equality and diversity policies are focused solely on the contents of the Equality Act, meaning that wider social mobility issues are often neglected. Despite its potential to be associated with other protected characteristics, socio-economic background does not currently enjoy the benefit of anti-discrimination legislation. However, in my view, this makes it even more important for employers to be proactive in eliminating prejudice.

What is clear is that the Government cannot address these issues alone. Today’s report rightly concludes that local businesses need to play a much stronger role in providing exposure to a range of career options. For many people from disadvantaged backgrounds, entering work can be difficult. They have no pre-existing networks, no paid internships and no mentors. In my view, targeted outreach is one of the most important ways of reversing the trend. Supporting employees to engage in volunteering will not only help talented individuals to move forward, but it will also ensure that employers benefit from the diversity of thought that they will need to thrive in a post-pandemic world.  

Whilst some large employers may have their own projects, volunteering does not need to involve significant internal resource. There is a wealth of social mobility charities as well as schools and universities running vital programmes and mentoring schemes which have already been organised and just require volunteers. Many of these programmes are now taking place virtually.

There is no better time for employers to start thinking about how they give back to the communities you serve and how they enable staff to do so. You may wish to review your time off work policy to expressly allow employees to engage in charitable activities, or to demonstrate your commitment to social mobility by introducing a formal volunteering policy. If you would value a discussion about your social mobility strategy, then please do get in touch.