Twelve government departments among UK’s top employers for social mobility

Rankings also include civil service fast stream, the Crown Prosecution Service and MI6

A view of Whitehall. Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

08 Oct 2019

Government departments, programmes and agencies make up over one-fifth of the UK’s top employers for social mobility, according to research published today.

The Social Mobility Foundation has ranked the top 75 UK employers on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to talent from all backgrounds.

The rankings are based on a survey of employers from 18 different sectors, who answered around 100 questions across seven key areas of social mobility, with employers being asked whether they seek to find out if employees received free school meals, or if their parents went to university.


The list is headed by accounting and professional services firm PwC, with the Ministry of Justice the best performing government department, in seventh place on the list. The Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent is in 12th place, while seven other departments are all in the top 50 – the Department for Education (22), Department for Work and Pensions (29), Ministry of Defence (35), Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (39), Department for International Trade (42), the Treasury (43) and HM Revenue & Customs (50).

The remaining departments ranked in the full list of 75 are: the Home Office (54), Cabinet Office (61), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (70), and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (74).

Other parts of government that also make the list are: Financial Conduct Authority (23), the British Army (55), the Crown Prosecution Service (62), and the secret intelligence service MI6 (73).

Research has consistently shown that people from more affluent backgrounds take a disproportionate number of the best jobs and that employers tend to disproportionately employ graduates who went to private schools and a small number of universities, according to the SMF. The index was developed in consultation with social mobility experts and major employers to measure progress to tackle the imbalance.

The survey also found that a majority of employers ask their new employees whether or not their parents went to university (51%) or the type of school they attended (53%), while nearly 40% ask whether they were eligible for free school meals. Almost 20% ask the postcode you grew up in, while 17% ask the occupation of your parents. Around one-third remove the name, university and/or school grades of candidates when reviewing applications.

Expanded list

Chief executive David Johnston welcomed the expansion of the top list of employers from 50 to 75 this year, which, he said, reflected “the very wide range of organisations trying to make progress on social mobility”.

He added: “Whilst no employer would say they have cracked their social mobility challenge, all of the employers in the top list – along with those that didn’t quite make it – should be congratulated for the efforts they’re making to ensure their organisation is open to talent from all class backgrounds.”

Foundation chair and former Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission chair Alan Milburn said that social mobility is becoming a cause embraced by more and more of our country's top employers.

“When politics is weak, society needs to be strong – so it is welcome a growing number of employers are stepping up to the plate,” he said. “They recognise the need to open their doors to a wider pool of talent both to address growing public concerns about unfairness and to reap the business benefits from having more diverse workforces. The onus is now on all of our country's top employers to do the same."

Other key findings include that 42% of employers monitor their recruitment process to see where those from lower socio-economic backgrounds fall down, while nearly 40% of employers have assessed whether their organisation’s culture is welcoming to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

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