Thousands of talented young people face a “lost opportunity” because they can’t access top jobs, unless employers take into account factors like whether a potential employee grew up in a poor neighbourhood, according to the report of a cross party MPs and peers inquiry into access to leading professions, published today. The report also urges a ban on unpaid internships.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on social mobility, The Class Ceiling, highlights that contextual recruitment – where firms aim to identify candidates with the most potential by looking at their achievements in context to their social background – is only used by a small proportion of employers. But even when firms are using such methods, they are often not transparent about doing so, meaning many people from poorer backgrounds are unaware that they might be considered for a role.

The APPG inquiry followed the publication of the Sutton Trust’s Leading People 2016 report which showed that the UK’s top jobs– from MPs and journalists, to actors and musicians – remain disproportionately populated by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge, despite these educating only a small minority of the population.

It found that almost a third of MPs in the 2015 intake were independently educated. As are nearly a third of those FTSE 100 chief executives that were educated in the UK. Of all High Court and Appeals Court judges, nearly three quarters attended private schools, as did over half of the top 100 news journalists and over two-thirds of British Oscar winners.

Over four sessions, the inquiry explored what is being done to increase the numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in professions such as law, finance, medicine, journalism and politics. Parliamentarians heard evidence from 33 figures from across these industries. Witnesses included Michael Sheen, a BAFTA-winning actor; David Morley, Senior Partner at Allen & Overy; Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of accountancy firm Grant Thornton; and Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Today’s report draws on their evidence to outline how the government, universities, schools and employers can lead the way in improving social mobility by widening access to top jobs. In addition to a greater use of contextual admissions, the APPG is urging that the financial costs of accessing many jobs should be minimised as much as possible.

During the inquiry, unpaid internships were raised as a particular issue for young people trying to access jobs in the arts and media. Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of the Arts Council and ITV, described them as ‘the curse of the arts industry’ and said that the expectation that young people will work for less than the national minimum wage was the major barrier for disadvantaged young people interested in accessing jobs in the creative industries.

The APPG would like to see unpaid internships banned so that no young person is unable to pursue their chosen career because they can’t afford to work for free. They are also recommending that employers increase their efforts to make their recruitment less London-centric, by increasing regional outreach and covering travel costs for interviews or work experience placements.

In a cross-party foreword to the report, Justin Madders MP (Labour), Andrea Jenkyns MP (Conservative) and Baroness Tyler (Liberal Democrat) say:

“Our professions should reflect our communities and our country, and employers themselves would ultimately benefit from harnessing the broader experience and potential of the country as a whole and not just established groups.

“This business case for diversity was put forward by many who responded to this inquiry. By widening access to the professions, organisations benefit from an increased pool of skills and experience.”

“Employers look for confidence, resilience, social skills and self-motivation in their employees, but for those who have had little to no exposure to extracurricular activities, work experience or mentoring, these skills can be difficult to acquire. A clear message from our evidence sessions was that we need to become better at inspiring our youngsters to reach their full potential, especially for those who start out at a disadvantage.”

Justin Madders MP, Chair of the APPG on social mobility, added:

“We know that social mobility at the top of UK society is shamefully low. Throughout this inquiry we have heard from profession after profession that significant barriers exist to young people from less advantaged.

“If the current government is serious about improving access to top jobs for those from less advantaged homes, they need to take a much more strategic approach. This means linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a real business case and practical plan for improving social mobility.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Getting more graduates from low and middle-income backgrounds to the top of the professions is vital both for social mobility and the economic success of the country.  Employers, supported by government, have to do more to improve diversity through their recruitment practices, including through greater use of contextual admissions. The Sutton Trust has set up several Pathways Programmes such as law, medicine and STEM in partnership with major employers.  These enable students from low and middle-income backgrounds to access leading professions.”


  1. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility is a cross-party group of MPs and peers. Formed in 2011 to discuss and promote the cause of social mobility; to raise issues of concern and help inform policy makers and opinion formers. We seek to investigate the challenges for policy makers to ensure life chances are not limited by background. Justin Madders MP and Baroness Tyler of Enfield are co-chairs of the APPG on social mobility. Andrea Jenkyns MP is an APPG champion for this inquiry.
  2. The Sutton Trust provides secretarial support to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and helped produce this report and organise evidence hearings.
  3. The report Leading People 2016 is available here.

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