On 28th March I made a speech in a Parliamentary debate on 'Social Mobility and the Economy'. You can watch my full speech here, or read it below.
"It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett), who made a powerful speech.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on securing this important debate on social mobility and the economy. She made a passionate and practical speech.
People in my community too often feel like social mobility no longer applies to them. I am told time and again by my constituents during my surgeries and on the doorsteps of Barnsley East that the economy is not working for them, and that they are being held back.
It is difficult to disagree or to reassure them because they are not entirely wrong. In my constituency and across Barnsley, someone’s postcode still to this day determines their life chances and what they can, or rather cannot, become.
The Social Mobility Foundation has identified that Barnsley sits in the bottom 10% of local authorities in the country on the social mobility index.
I am sure that, through her experience of growing up in nearby Rotherham, the right hon. Member for Putney knows the area well, and is at least familiar with the challenges it faces. She will also know that she remains in the minority for those born and raised in South Yorkshire.
To put it simply, starting from childhood, life chances in Barnsley are far below those provided elsewhere. As many hon. Members have said, that must change.
A huge percentage of children in Barnsley’s classrooms are eligible for free school meals and come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but fewer than 10% of those children will go on to study at university—one of the lowest rates in the country. That is put into perspective, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) outlined, when compared with, for instance, the 50% of disadvantaged children in Kensington and Chelsea who will go on to higher education. Despite those struggles, Barnsley’s schools have fewer resources to progress.
Once past those struggles in childhood, the economy lags in providing the opportunities for people to get on in life.
The mining industry, which helped to shape our community, once provided employment for more than 30,000 people. Although the work was hard and often dangerous, it was secure and well paid.
The economic landscape is different now. The largest private sector employers in my constituency are in distribution. Both unemployment and youth unemployment are substantially higher than the national average. The average weekly wage in Barnsley East is a full 10% lower than the UK average.
Across the area, many people are trapped in insecure and precarious employment, on short-term or flexible contracts. There is less certainty of work, no guaranteed income, no planning past the next week’s rota, which may change at the last minute, and no economic security to provide food or pay the bills.
Such an economy is not conducive to social mobility.
For social mobility in Barnsley, and my constituency of Barnsley East, we desperately need an inclusive economy that provides the security of wages, and the opportunities that people have missed out on for too long. We need secure, long-term employment with a guaranteed income that allows people to plan, save and look further than the next pay packet.
Most of all, we need an economy that works for people in Barnsley, that allows workers to advance and progress; that allows children to aspire and achieve; and that provides the opportunities and conditions for genuine social mobility, which has evaded our community for too long."