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Worried about Britain’s poor social mobility? Here’s a way to change things

28 August 2014

10:36 AM

28 August 2014

10:36 AM

At a time when politics resembles a bad soap opera, it’s easy to despair about the ability of government to change anything for the better. But as the Queen pointed out in her 2010 UN address, the best changes in society tend not to come from governments but from society more broadly. Anyone concerned about social mobility need not wait for government to act: there are changes that, if you’re reading this blog, you are probably able to make. You might be a position of influence, or have the ear of someone who is.

That’s why this year, as last year, The Spectator is not asking its readers to offer money to a charity, as newspapers often do. We propose something that could be even more useful: to find work experience placements for teenagers on the books of the Social Mobility Foundation.

Talented pupils do well at school, but they often lack the connections to get into the world of work. Internships, so often the route to the best jobs, are usually offered on an informal basis. They cost nothing to employers, yet they are invaluable to young people. To spend even a couple of weeks as an intern gives a pupil the chance to fall in (or out of) love with a profession. It demystifies work for those who have assumed that people in top jobs are somehow different.

How to open up this process to those without the connections? Not every employer has the time or budget to run an outreach scheme. But the SMF offers any interested employer a dazzling list of straight-A students from disadvantaged backgrounds from all over Britain.

So our appeal, this year, is for our readers to use what connections they might have to find companies (or just someone in a company) willing to let a teenager work with them for a week or two. All we ask is that you email us with any offers at the address below. The SMF will be in touch, and provide the interns. The process is easy. The hard part for employers might be letting the interns go: over the years, The Spectator has hired three SMF alumni.


Last year, the SMF appeal led to a huge response from our readers offering work placements. This year, by making this our Christmas appeal, we hope to find even more.

We know The Spectator’s readers are generous. We also know they are exactly the sort of people who would be willing to pull strings for someone they don’t know – if only they knew how. Our Christmas appeal seeks to give them – you – the opportunity to do just that.

It is a very British habit to despair of the young, but Britain’s upcoming generation offers plenty grounds for optimism. Their behaviour, in many ways, is better than that of their parents: they’re hardworking, less interested in hedonistic pursuits, serious about their study, their families and their country. To spend any time with interns serves as reminder about the character and calibre of today’s young people. And this, not any political tragicomedy, offers the surest grounds to be confident about our future.

As Andrew Neil put it at our inaugural alumni meeting, they should use us, at The Spectator, as their network because the people they’re up against will be using their contact network too. If we can use our connections to do them a favour somehow, we ask them to let us know.

Andrew Neil with the Spectator's SMF students (Photo: Charlotte King Photography)

Andrew Neil with the Spectator’s SMF students (Photo: Charlotte King Photography)

Many employers allow staff to act as mentors to SMF students. Some of us here at the Spectator do this, and it doesn’t take much: emailing advice, helping with these ‘personal statements’ the poor things have to write nowadays and answering questions about their careers. To give these fiercely bright kids the kind of help that the private schools specialise in.

The SMF are expanding out of London, and I’d urge other employers to learn more. And this can be in the self-interest of all companies – we wouldn’t be hiring SMF graduates if they weren’t the very best.

So if you’re an employer reading today’s newspaper reports and lamenting Britain’s poor social mobility, then you can do something about it. Email the SMF today.


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