The Bank of Mum and Dad: Britain's Contemporary Social Mobility Challenge

The following is a speech given in parliament as part of a debate on social mobility on Tuesday 22nd November 2016: 

The question that we are all trying to answer today is, “If you are talented, can you succeed in modern Britain? And why does it matter if you can’t?” We should be unashamedly selfish about social mobility. Living in a country where more people can achieve their potential means that they are more likely to do things which help us all, whether they invent new forms of energy or become doctors, entertainers or even MPs. When brains, not birth, form the basis of achievement, we all benefit. That is why it matters that social mobility is stuck in Britain. It is wasting the potential to change the world.

In my short contribution today, I want to take up the challenge posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), who spoke about the repetition in this debate, and offer the challenge that focusing on schools and education is not enough. We also have to address the divisions in access to finance and networks, which continue to hold back too many in our country. Bluntly, we have to address the fact that it is the bank of mum and dad—and all that it offers in terms of cash and connections—that increasingly makes a difference to social mobility in our modern world, and that we miss a trick if we do not think about those things.

We should make no mistake: education too often drives outcomes, and money and privilege have a big hand in that, as many Members have already set out. That is not just about academic talent; it is also about creative talent, and the same patterns are clear in acting and sport, although with the possible exception of music. Surely, however, our answer to young, bright children cannot be that we think they should go on “The X Factor”—we know they have the X factor.

Instead, we have to understand the barriers they face in this post-Brexit, low-growth world, where constant, disruptive technological change means they will hold seven different jobs in their lifetime—two of which have not yet been invented. If we do not address those barriers, too many children will not get those opportunities. It is in that environment that we need to understand how access to finance makes a difference. Housing has come to dominate not just catchment areas, but families’ options for subsidising their children, whether that is remortgaging and starting up a business or being able to help their children go to university.

This is also about understanding how, in today’s disruptive world, the bank of mum and dad can be the difference in terms of taking the leap between one career and the next. With half of all today’s students chasing careers that will be made obsolete by technology and automation, we cannot afford to ignore this challenge.

Where previous generations fought to ensure that their children could advance up the career ladder, the next generation will thrive only if it can access multiple livelihoods. Many ladders are being taken away just as they are being created. Our new elite will be those with not just the money to start again, but the contacts and the confidence to get their foot in many doors.

In the face of such uncertainty about traditional career paths, one great hope for us should be the entrepreneurship among our young adults. However, what do we have to offer those young entrepreneurs? Whether someone is educated at university or wants to start a new business or to go into further education, the bank of mum and dad offers not just money but contacts and networks, in a world where access to internships and unpaid experience all too often defines outcomes.

That is why it is time for us to think again. It is time to ask how we ensure that not just 50% but 100% of all 18-year-olds can take out a loan for the pathway they want to take. It is time to ask how we can make sure every child can access that educational work experience or internship opportunity, not just those with the parents who can get them in the door or who can pay for them do that work. It is time to ask why on earth the last Government got rid of the child trust fund and to bring it back in time to help the next generation of children to move forward.

Michael Young talked about a meritocracy. That is why grammar schools are such an outmoded way of thinking. The future will be about the many different doors we want children to be able to walk through and about making sure that the bank of mum and dad is open to every single young person, not just the few.