Former Labour Minister Alan Milburn has produced an interesting, if rather frustrating, report on Social Mobility. The report points out the difficulties faced by those from less privileged backgrounds, in breaking into the professions. He complains in particular about – ‘the refusal of Britain's professions to open themselves up to people from lower-class backgrounds’.
He is quite right that an unacceptable number of lawyers now come from a Private School and Oxbridge background. To be honest I don't care which University a student went to, so long as they can do the job.
What is frustrating is Mr. Milburn blames professionals without referring to the massive obstacles caused by government policies and regulators.
The first of these is the staggering amount of debts which students have to incur before in order to get the qualifications they need. I know of many young lawyers who have finished their training with £40 - £50k, of debts. That is an eye watering figure. Despite the rhetoric that it is not repaid until earnings reach a certain level, it is still a debt. This is bound to deter those from a less privileged background. And in the case of a professional couple that figure can double. The increase of tuition fess to £9k a year is going to load even more debt.
In the case of solicitors there is the additional bad news of the abolition of the minimum salary for Trainees. The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) have now officially stated that they feel that this will open the door to more jobs –
This is a fanciful suggestion. You might as well abolish any minimum wage in order to reduce unemployment. After many years of hard work a Trainee lawyer is entitled to a reasonable salary –
It is a shame that the SRA do not seem to have listened to the Junior Lawyers Division who raised serious concerns in a 90 page response to the consultation –
The reality is that these are the things that are deterring anybody other than those from wealthy families from going into the Law and other professions. If a bright student is faced with lottery levels of debt and a pittance of a salary to follow then he/she cannot be blamed for looking elsewhere. Many firms will continue to pay a fair salary - but it is the overall perceptioon that is the problem.
Those in power need to examine these fundamental obstacles before blaming the professions for having ‘glass ceilings’.