Elitist Britain? The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission investigates.

The conclusion from the latest report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission examining who is in charge of Britain is summed up in the title “Elitist Britain?”.

Alan Milburn, Chair of the SMCP Committee, says in the foreward that the analysis of the backgrounds of 4,000 leaders in politics, business, the media and other aspects of public life, “suggests the Britain is deeply elitist”.

The report finds that there is a dramatic over-representation of privately educated persons and Oxbridge graduates. Mr Milburn argues that this important because, as a democratic society, the authority of institutions such as the law and media, is derived from their inclusiveness and groundedness. The fact that these public institutions in the UK dramatically do not reflect the public they are purported to represent reduces their credibility.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Milburn said that the report should be a “wake-up call” to schools, universities and government.

Some key statistics from the report include:


  • 71% of senior judges
  • 62% of senior armed forces officers
  • 55% of permanent secretaries
  • 53% of senior diplomats
  • 45% of chairmen and women of public bodies
  • 44% of The Sunday Times Rich List
  • 43% of newspaper columnists

Half the House of Lords attended independent schools, along with 36% of the cabinet, 33% of MPs and 22% of the shadow cabinet.

Only 7% of the whole population attend(ed) independent schools

Oxbridge graduates:

  • 75% of senior judges
  • 59% of the cabinet
  • 57% of permanent secretaries
  • 47% of newspaper columnists
  • 38% of the House of Lords
  • 24% of MPs

Less than 1% of the whole population are Oxbridge graduates, and 62% did not attend university.

It is easy to see why, using these figures, the SMCP Committee is concerned about the representativeness of Britain’s public bodies.

The report does recognise that there is a high proportion of very talented people in independent schools and top universities. However, the authors question whether top jobs are about what you know or who you know. Suggestions to “break-open” the elite include:

  • publishing of data on the social background of staff
  • university-blind job applications
  • non-graduate entry roles
  • tackling unpaid internships which exclude poorer potential candidates

Mr Milburn says:

We in the Commission hope this report prompts a re-think in the institutions that have such a critical role to play in making Britain a country where success relies on aptitude and ability more than background or birth.
Helen Robinson