Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali writes an opinion piece in the Guardian on social mobility ahead of youth leadership development and employability charity UpRising's launch of its emerging leaders network.
The full article can be read below:
David Cameron is right – young ethnic minorities are being let down, often feeling powerless and insecure in the workplace. We should help them tap into the networks that others take for granted
David Cameron has accused the universities, the armed forces and Britain’s biggest businesses of “ingrained, institutional and insidious” attitudes that hold certain people back. He called on universities to go “the extra mile” to tackle racism and class discrimination arguing “it’s not enough to simply say you are open to all”. Unusually, I found myself agreeing with him.
When I was a kid growing up in the East End of London, the racism and hostility was often in your face. Now it’s much more covert, but the facts are alarming. This week we learned that the Office for National Statistics has found a 23% gap in hourly pay between black and white university graduates; and black graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts.
To be young in 21st-century Britain should be an odyssey of discovery, with the digital revolution placing the world’s wisdom in their pockets. Instead, what should be the golden age of education, work and personal development is for millions a dark age of denied opportunities and immoveable barriers.
For the poorest young people, government support has steadily eroded, from Sure Starts to independent careers advice, work experience and university student grants. Over the years, one of the many frustrating things I have encountered is meeting young people, including graduates, who are struggling to get into training and jobs.
It’s what led me to start up charities such as Futureversity and UpRising, which develop young people’s employability and leadership skills. And there are increasing numbers of businesses, public institutions and charities such as Sutton Trust, Social Mobility Foundation, Princes Trust and City Gateway which are doing great work to promote social mobility. The challenge ahead is to ensure successful projects are able to reach and support hundreds of thousands more young people. It’s estimated by the Fair Education Alliance that these lost opportunities could cost our economy £56bn a year by 2050.
Kawsar Zaman, who grew up in my constituency, was the first in his family to go to university and was supported by UpRising. After studying at LSE, Oxford and Harvard, he is now a trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance in Canary Wharf. Alvin Carpio, also an alumni, grew up in Newham and now works for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He said: “Growing up in east London, you could see Canary Wharf from afar, the power, money and that just seemed like a world away which we can never actually get into.”
But in most cases employability and leadership skills are not enough on their own. It’s well known that middle-class children are often able to gain career advantages by tapping up favours from parents’ contacts. When most jobs are secured through networks, its clear that young people from poorer backgrounds will find it difficult to secure good jobs. This is one area where universities with global alumni networks can play a vital role and go that “extra mile”. They could all be connecting working-class and minority students to mentors and providing employability training, as some such as Queen Mary University are already doing. The government must also step up by restoring funding for high-quality careers advice, reinstating the entitlement to work experience for all young people, and provide high-quality training and apprenticeships.
Poppy Noor, another UpRising alumna who was homeless at 16, gained a place at Cambridge University two years later thanks to the support of her teachers. But once there, she says that being surrounded by so many “high flyers” and being from her background made her lose confidence. Today she speaks powerfully on the value of mentors and having access to networks which has helped her career. Her story touches on a common theme of powerlessness, lack of confidence and a lack of a sense of belonging. Poppy, Alvin and Kawsar credit much of their success to the support they received from mentors who gave them encouragement, confidence and access to networks as they progressed into their careers.
Tonight, UpRising will be launching its emerging leaders network, which has an alumni network of thousands of young adults who can help other young people gain skills such as giving presentations, problem-solving, empathy, grit, generating rapport with customers, and team working. But it’s a drop in the ocean without an ambitious and well-resourced response by government and business to ensure today’s young people are not prisoners of their background. We cannot afford to lose a generation.