A raft of new commitments designed to boost the civil service’s intake of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been launched by Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock.
Among the pledges is the development of a new set of metrics to track employees’ backgrounds and monitor social mobility in the civil service, as well as across a range of private sector firms.
Hancock said the common national standard could include reference to parents’ profession, home postcode at the age of 14, and whether a worker ever received free school meals. He said 150 large employers, including the likes of Barclays, Deloitte, and O2, had also signed up to the project.
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The civil service’s just-published refresh of its diversity Talent Action Plan said the new metrics could be introduced as soon this autumn to monitor the progress of all apprenticeship starts, as well as applications to corporate talent programmes.
Hancock said the move would help to bypass what he described as a British reluctance to discuss social backgrounds at work.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” he said. “The civil service is determined to lead the way on social mobility, which is why we are going to work with major private sector employers to develop a national measure for social mobility so we can take action and break down barriers to employment.”
Earlier this year the Cabinet Office published the findings of a report, commissioned from consultancy the Bridge Group, aimed at understanding why just 4.4% of successful applicants to Whitehall’s prestigious graduate scheme hail from low socio-economic backgrounds.
It found “low levels of awareness of the Fast Stream amongs lower SEB students”, with the programme seen as both “attractive and intimidating” to students from poorer backgrounds.
The civil service has already committed to regionalise its selection process for Fast Stream candidates, but among the moves proposed in today’s action plan are shortening its timescale “from 18-31 weeks to no more than 12 weeks”.
Other new actions to promote social mobility include specifically targeting apprenticeship opportunities at those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and increasing the use of internships and work experience for young people from poorer backgrounds.
Also included is a commitment to target outreach work at universities with a high proportions of students from working-class backgrounds.
Additionally, the action plan calls for each government department to have a plan for improving socio-economic diversity, with accountability resting at permanent-secretary level.
Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood admitted there was “a long way to go” for the civil service to meet its commitment to be the country’s most inclusive employer. But he said the action plan detailed the steps that “ensure the civil service truly represents modern Britain”.