Dr Lee Elliot Major
CEO, Sutton Trust

Equality and fairness should be at the heart of any civilised society, so that all talents are recognised and nurtured and social mobility is high.

In a civilised society, there should be no link between educational opportunities and family income, so that all young people are given the chance to fulfil their potential, regardless of their family background, school, or where they live.

The many barriers that young people from lower-income backgrounds face when accessing careers, and the subsequent lack of diversity in top professions, undermine and threaten a civilised society. These barriers can be seen in our society today: only 7% of the population received a private education, yet nearly three-quarters of top judges, 61% of doctors and over half of journalists are privately-educated. Politics is similarly dominated by the privately-educated, with Cabinet ministers almost over 5 times more likely to have gone to a fee-paying school than the general population. The arts are not immune to this pattern either: 67% of Oscar winners and 42% of BAFTA winners attended independent schools.

This under-representation of people from less-privileged backgrounds in top jobs reveals limitations to the scope of social mobility, and also poses problems for the ambitions and aspirations of members of our society. Professions across all sectors should reflect the diversity of society as closely as possible.

While it is true that private schools often have higher academic achievement, it is not inequality of education alone that creates barriers. Unfair recruitment processes that benefit those from better-off backgrounds also stand to threaten a civilised society. Many people from lower-income backgrounds are unable to gain access to professions due to the importance placed on experiences such as unpaid internships, which are highly exclusive. A civilised society should recognise the value of a wide range of skills and life experiences. No one should be unable to pursue their ambitions because they have been afforded different opportunities in life, and diversity of backgrounds and experiences should be valued and celebrated.

Greater social mobility is beneficial to society in a number of ways. Improved social mobility leads to better matches between people and jobs, as the talents of all members of society are recognised and nurtured, and barriers to accessing jobs are reduced. Productivity can also improve if the barriers to accessing careers are removed, as it would become more likely for an employer to be able fill a position with someone with the highest level of potential for that job, rather than someone who may be less suited but better connected.

Ensuring equality of opportunity and social mobility requires a cross-societal approach and effort. All bodies in a civil society, including employers, government, and schools, should work together to ensure that the principles of equality and fairness are upheld as central to society. In a civilised society, no one should have to limit their aspirations, and everyone should have the chance to explore their future options and succeed, regardless of background.

Dr Lee Elliot Major – CEO, Sutton Trust