Press release

Government determined to open doors of opportunity

A new strategy to ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to fulfil their potential was published today by the Deputy Prime Minister.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Social Mobility Strategy: Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers focuses on inter-generational social mobility: ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to do better than their parents. It aims to tackle unfairness at every stage of life with specific measures to improve social mobility from the Foundation Years to school and adulthood. The Government has also published its child poverty strategy, ‘Tackling the causes of disadvantage and transforming families’ lives’. A year after the Child Poverty Act it, sets out how the Government will transform people’s lives by breaking the entrenched cycle of deprivation.

As part of this agenda, a new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission will be established, strengthening the role of the Child Poverty Commission in holding the Government to account.  The Commission will report to Parliament and monitor and drive progress towards ending child poverty, improving life chances and increasing social mobility.

To set up the new Commission we will amend legislation, and in the interim period, will broaden the remit of the current Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility, Alan Milburn, to include child poverty.

A set of key indicators has been included in the social mobility strategy, for the first time defining how social mobility is measured so that the Government can see where we are having the most impact and need to adjust the approach. These indicators will be included in departmental Business Plans, so that social mobility is placed at the heart of Whitehall policymaking. 

The stark facts on social mobility are: 

  • Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared to three quarters from richer families. Children on free school meals are only half as likely as other children to get five good GCSEs.
  • One in five children receives free school meals, yet this group accounts for less than one in a hundred Oxbridge students.
  • Only a quarter of boys from working class backgrounds go on to get middle class jobs.
  • Only 7 per cent of people attend independent schools, yet they account for over half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of High Court judges and 54% of FTSE 100 CEOs.

In contrast to previous approaches, the social mobility strategy sets out progressively to tackle the causes of poverty rather than just the symptoms. The social mobility and child poverty strategies provide a powerful spring-broad for progress towards creating fairer opportunities for everyone.  

The Deputy Prime Minister said: 

Fairness is one of the fundamental values of the Coalition Government. A fair society is an open society where everybody is free to flourish and where birth is never destiny.

In Britain today, life chances are narrowed for too many by the circumstances of their birth: the home they’re born into, the neighbourhood they grow up in or the jobs their parents do. Patterns of inequality are imprinted from one generation to the next. 

A recent report by the Sutton Trust estimated that the economic benefits of improving social mobility could be worth £140 billion a year by 2050. This is not only a question of fairness - opening up opportunities is in the interests of the economy and of the country. 

There is no particular age when the cycles of disadvantage can be broken. The opportunity gap has to be addressed at every stage of life, from early years to working age. And Government cannot do it alone. Employers, parents, communities and voluntary organisations all have a part to play.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said:

The legacy of worklessness and benefit dependency can be seen in the millions of families across the country who find themselves abandoned to the margins of society. Work is the best way for these people to take control of their lives, fulfil their potential and encourage their children to do the same.

The welfare system must be dramatically reformed so that instead of working against people, it helps them take advantage of every available opportunity. We will reform welfare to enable families to work their way out of poverty through the Universal Credit and with the Work Programme we will provide the training and skills employers need so those on benefits can compete in the workplace for the first time in far too long. We are also extending the number of apprenticeships available and helping more people take up the chance of work experience.

Minister for Science and Universities David Willetts said, 

Universities cannot be a tool for social engineering. But we can expect them to look at students’ potential, not just what they have already achieved. That way their commitment to the highest academic standards itself drives social mobility as well.

While a degree is an excellent investment in your future, it is important that recruitment into the professions is made more fair and transparent. The lead the government has shown in reforming civil service internships should be widely taken up across the private sector, ensuring Britain is using all the talent available. 

Policy highlights in ‘Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers’

Foundation years

  • One in five children receives free school meals, yet this group accounts for fewer than one in a hundred Oxbridge students
  • Recruiting 4,200 new health visitors and doubling the number of families who can benefit from Family Nurse Partnerships at one time
  • Retaining but reforming Sure Start Children’s Centres, offering services to all families but with a focus on those in greatest need.
  • Accepting Graham Allen’s recommendation that people need to be made aware of the importance of parenting, especially in the earliest years of life, and that this should be taken forward by a broad-based alliance of interested groups
  • Providing access to affordable and high quality early education and care, with fifteen hours of free early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds and all three- and four-year-olds.

School years

  • Reforming the education system to raise standards, including improving the status and quality of teachers, devolving power to the front line and reforming the National Curriculum.
  • Establishing the new Pupil Premium, worth an additional £2.5bn by 2014/15, to focus on raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
  • Supporting the “Speakers for schools” programme to get high-profile speakers in state schools, a project that the entire Cabinet has agreed to take part in.
  • Working with the Education and Employers Taskforce charity on “Inspiring the Future”, an initiative to  get 100,000 individuals to visit schools to talk about their jobs and how they got to their position.


  • Expanding the Apprenticeships programme, increasing funding in 2011/12 to over £1.4 billion.
  • Offering a more generous maintenance grant of £3,250 for students from families with incomes under £25,000.
  • Creating a new £150 million National Scholarship Programme to provide financial assistance to students from poorer backgrounds.
  • Increasing funding for disadvantaged learners post-16 by more than a third to £770 million in 2011/12.
  • Establishing a new all-age careers service by April 2012. 


  • The Civil Service is leading by example by expanding its internships programme, and simultaneously bringing an end to informal placements so that parents with connections can no longer give their children an advantage. This should be a model for businesses to follow.
  • The Deputy Prime Minister is urging employers to sign up to a Business Compact on Social Mobility, in which they commit to reforming their internship schemes and ensuring opportunities are available to families from all walks of life. Some of the country’s biggest professional bodies have already committed to fairer opportunities, including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Institute of British Architects.
  • The Government is working to encourage saving and building resilience in retirement through measures including the Junior ISA, auto-enrolment onto company pension schemes and payroll saving options.

Child poverty

The Child Poverty strategy sets out the framework to tackling child poverty from 2011-2014 and provides a new approach for ending child poverty by 2020. It is a comprehensive plan that focuses on a broad set of policies that target the drivers of poverty and incentivises action.  It is a strategy founded on the understanding that poverty is no just about income and must also build the wider life chances of children to increase opportunity and aspiration. 

The Child Poverty Strategy `also focuses on increasing the life chances of children by supporting families and raising aspirations. Policies include: 

  • The Fairness Premium, which will provide £7.2 billion in the next three years to help the most disadvantaged children to get a better education is now underway.
  • More health visitors for Sure Start Children’s Centres and an Early Intervention Grant for local authorities to invest in addressing local needs.
  • Universal Credit aimed at reforming welfare to help families work their way out of poverty and the Work Programme to help those struggling to enter the labour market.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said: 

Every child deserves a happy life free from poverty and free from fear. Children face too many difficulties in today’s Britain. In this strategy we re-commit ourselves to ending child poverty by 2020 and breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage that has blighted children’s lives and aspirations for too long.

We know that the early years of a child’s life are critical to their success in adulthood which is why we will measure progress on child development, infant health and school attainment. This is in addition to reforming Sure Start, early years education and our school system to focus resources on the most disadvantaged children and families. And we are adding an indicator of severe poverty alongside the income targets in the Child Poverty Act so can see whether we are properly targeting the most disadvantaged.

Today’s publication of the Child Poverty Strategy is an important milestone, but it is only the start. The government’s future strategies will say more about how every child can be given the support they need to succeed, and show how we can genuinely transform the lives of children and families.

Notes to editors

  1. The Child Poverty Strategy can be found at
  2. Until the new Commission is in place, robust interim arrangements are necessary to ensure work towards reducing child poverty progresses. Until legislation is amended, Alan Milburn will extend his role as Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility to include child poverty. To provide continuity between the work of the Review and the work of the new Commission, Alan Milburn will also be Acting Chair for a short interim period after the Commission is established, while a permanent Chair is appointed through open competition. We intend to appoint a Chair and Vice Chair providing scope for both the social mobility agenda and the child poverty agenda to have strong representation on the Commission.
Published 5 April 2011