Senior civil servants quizzed on whether parents owned home in social mobility drive

Latest bid to change the culture of the civil service sees 4,000 top officials asked questions on their background

Senior civil servants are being asked if they were ever refugees or if their parents owned their own home, as part of a scheme designed to boost opportunities for the least privileged job applicants.

The Cabinet Office has drawn up a list of 12 questions it wants to ask civil service applicants in a bid to level the playing field and break the reputation of top officials as white, male and from wealthy backgrounds.

Such questions as “did you spend time in care?” and “were you eligible for free school meals” are among those which are currently being asked of the 4,000 most senior civil servants to try and improve data on social mobility.

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Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer told: “I am committed to ensuring that anyone with the right talents and aptitude can serve in the civil service, no matter what their background.”

Gummer intends to complete the trials by December, at which point the list of questions will be whittled down to about six to be used across the public sector. Following criticism that the exercise could in fact boost discrimination, the Cabinet Office said it would be voluntary and anonymous.

The survey will go towards making up a database of applicants' backgrounds, rather than being used to compare individuals.

It is hoped the practice will be adopted by businesses, while separate trials are in the works for the BBC and Bank of England.

Explaining the initiative in a blog posted on GOV.UK earlier this month, Martyn Henderson of the Government Equalities Office said the civil service was still seen "as too exclusive".

"A key part of our plans is being able, for the first time, to track the progress of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in the civil service," Henderson explained.

"Starting this month, all senior civil servants are taking part in a pilot where they will be asked to answer a range of questions about their background.

"Following analysis of the results, a small number of measures will be selected that will then be used for monitoring right across the civil service."

Henderson said the move was a first not just for the civil service, but "for any major employer in the UK" which he hoped would go some way to ensuring the organisation "fully reflects the public it serves".

According to The Times, the questions that will be asked are:

  • Did you spend time in care?
  • Have you ever held refugee or asylum status? 
  • Were you a carer as a child? 
  • What type of secondary school did you go to?
  • What was the name of that school? 
  • Did your parent or guardian complete a degree?
  • What are your parents’ highest qualifications?
  • What was your postcode when you were 14?
  • Were you eligible for free school meals?
  • What is your parents’ occupation? 
  • What kind of home did you live in — owner occupied or rented?
  • How would you assess your own socio-economic background?

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