Nick Clegg says young people’s opportunities must not be limited by who they know. One of the Deputy PM’s former interns tells Channel 4 News the social mobility strategy does not go far enough.
Nick Clegg says he wants young people to be given opportunities in life based on merit rather than networks.
Pledging that the Government’s new social mobility strategy will give everyone a “fair chance”, the Deputy Prime Minister said career opportunities should not be determined by “who your father’s friends are”.
There are concerns that Britain is less socially mobile than many of its international competitors.
Figures suggest that the highest ranks of the professions are dominated by the seven per cent of people who attended independent schools.
“I’ve been very lucky…But I think it would be a deeply pernicious thing to say that because of someone’s personal background they can’t play a role in public life to try to make things better for future generations.” Nick Clegg
Interviewed on Channel 4 News, Mr Clegg was challenged by Jon Snow on how he got his first big job, working for the then European Trade Commissioner, Leon Brittan, on the recommendation of the former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he conceded. “I’ve always been very open of the fact that I’ve been very, very lucky.
“I’ve had a very supportive family, and I’ve had many advantages that many other people haven’t. But I think it would be a deeply pernicious thing to say that because of someone’s personal background they can’t play a role in public life to try to make things better for future generations.”
Companies will now be encouraged to cover expenses or offer a wage for internships so people from less well-off backgrounds can secure new opportunities.
Whitehall is set to lead the way, with Civil Service internships advertised formally from 2012.
The Deputy Prime Minister told the Commons that from today he would not have any unpaid interns.
But one of Nick Clegg’s former unpaid interns told Channel 4 News the social mobility strategy does not go far enough.
Jonny Medland worked for Nick Clegg during the summer of 2007: “It’s a good first step but there are so many interns in the private sector. People have to be paid if the Government is serious about opening up internships to everyone.
“I don’t think it goes far enough.”
Jonny, who is now studying for a masters at Oxford University, did receive expenses: “It was a really good experience but if you’re not being paid it freezes out everyone who doesn’t live in London or whose parents can’t support them.”
Nick Clegg said for too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and the well-connected.
“Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.
A country that is socially mobile bases opportunity on your ability and drive, not on who your father’s friends are. Nick Clegg
“We want a fair job market based on merit, not networks. It should be about what you know, not who you know.
“A country that is socially mobile bases opportunity on your ability and drive, not on who your father’s friends are.”
The drive on internships forms part of the social mobility strategy which brings together a number of strands of the Government’s work on improving the life chances of children born into low- and middle-income families.
Nick Clegg is having a right old day of it at the centre of the political storm writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon.
"On internships and social mobility Nick Clegg was tackled in the Commons about a story in the Evening Standard.
"He admitted that he had got internships himself after his father "had a word" with a friend at a Finnish Bank. His later job with Leon Brittain and the European Commission was helped by a friendly word from Lord Carrington."
Read more: Bloodsport in the Commons as Clegg makes NHS concession
Nick Clegg’s announcement prompted an angry response from people fighting to save the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
James Mills, head of the Save EMA Campaign told Channel 4 News it was “insulting”‘.
“We have a cabinet of privately educated politicians who do not understand how ordinary families in the 21st century need support to get on in life, which explains why they don’t want to touch the public subsidy of the 600,000 kids at independent schools but they do want to pick the pockets of the 600,000 poorest teenagers in our country.
Read more: Channel 4 News FactCheck - Bad marks for Gove on EMA
“Cameron and Clegg probably never had to worry about bus and train fares or how to travel to college at their boarding schools but it’s not like that for ordinary teenagers in the UK.
“It’s not their fault they can’t relate, but it is their fault they refuse to understand.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber urged Ministers to ensure that interns were paid at least the minimum wage.
“There is a real danger that the spread of unpaid internships is undermining paid employment,” he said.
“At the very least, the Government must make sure that interns receive the national minimum wage, a bargain price to pay for the bright and able young people who are now taking up internships.”