July 21, 2009 / 10:26 AM / 10 years ago

Only rich Britons can get professional jobs: report

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Only children from the richest British families can enjoy careers in top professions like law and medicine because of increasingly impenetrable social barriers, a government-commissioned report said on Tuesday.

The study, led by former Labour government minister Alan Milburn, said there was a “closed shop mentality” in many professions which excluded young people from low and middle income backgrounds.

“Frankly there are too many kids out there from average income families who are bright ... and who want to go on to get a top professional career but haven’t got the right connections, haven’t necessarily gone to the right school, maybe haven’t had the chance to go to university, and that has all got to change,” Milburn told BBC radio.

The “Fair Access to the Professions” report said “birth not worth” had become a greater factor in deciding someone’s chances in life and that professions had become increasingly socially exclusive, open to fewer people.

It found:

* 75 percent of judges, 70 percent of finance directors and 45 percent of all top civil servants had been to independent schools, although just 7 percent of the population were independently educated.

* Those who get professional jobs grow up in a family richer than seven in 10 of all British families.

* A doctor of the future will grow up in a family richer than five in six of all UK families, while a journalist will grow up in family more affluent than three in four of all families.

But Milburn said a large expansion in such jobs in the near future — with up to seven million new professionals needed by 2020 — provided an opportunity for a second wave of social mobility, similar to the situation after World War Two.

The report made 88 recommendations, including opening internships to a wider pool of people, improving careers advice and making extra-curricular school activities and university degrees more widely available.

There also needed to be a campaign to raise aspirations and, although it rejected a return to academic selection of pupils, the report called for parents to be given the right to choose better schools for their children.

Milburn said efforts by Labour to improve the performance of schools since the party had been in power for the last decade had helped but more needed to be done.

“We’ve managed to raise the glass ceiling but in all truth we haven’t broken through it,” Milburn said.

Professional bodies welcomed the report.

The Bar Council, the professional body for advocates in England and Wales, said it would “redouble” its efforts to improve access to the profession.

“The Bar has a good story to tell on gender balance and ethnic mix,” said its chairman Desmond Browne.

“At all levels, the profession has also shown its commitment to promoting access to the Bar for the talented, regardless of social background.”

The Medical Schools Council said more efforts were needed to attract people from all backgrounds into medical careers.

But doctors’ body the British Medical Association said the “crippling” costs of studying medicine made the career inaccessible to poorer children.

Editing by Kate Kelland and Paul Casciato

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