Archives For Social Mobility

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

For those of you who have not yet seen, ACCA UK has launched Who accounts for social mobility? This paper was based on a survey of our members and students. Firstly thank you to all of you who took the time to take part in the survey your feedback was very insightful and highlighted what diversity there is among both students and members, across geography, age, gender and background.

Open access is at the heart of what ACCA believes; an open society is a fair one. We conducted the survey to get a greater understanding of whether what we are doing to encourage this is working, and to get a clearer picture of what you think. From the results, and other research and initiatives we are involved in we believe the government and business is not doing enough to ensure that everyone can get to the top.

Last Monday the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission launched its annual State of the Nation Report which looks at the UK as a whole to see whether the government is doing enough to ensure it reaches its child poverty targets and that social mobility is improving. Unfortunately much like our report, the Commission found the government to be lacking; we do face losing a talented generation if we do not do more.

The government claims to be focused on an inclusive growth agenda, but studies demonstrate that western countries with low social mobility have lower economic growth. If both the government and the opposition do not begin to take social mobility more seriously, we will become a permanently divided nation. To start with we would like to see a commitment from all three of the political parties to end the abuse of unpaid internships and ensure that businesses are advertising them freely and fairly to all. We were concerned to see that 43% of those who took our survey said they were unpaid, it simply isn’t good enough and both government and business must end this practice.

Secondly we would like to see a commitment to more effective dissemination of careers advice through the education system. As our own social mobility research shows, very few accountants find their way into the profession via their school or university. Improving teachers’ and careers advisers’ understanding of accountancy would make a significant contribution to improving access to the field, thus increasing social mobility.

Ahead of the UK general election in May, we will be working with the government and the Commission to look at what we believe should be done and how we can contribute. We are going to be hosting several roundtable discussions in Scotland, England and Wales working with a whole host of organisations to look at what is required to make sure that no one feels there is a glass ceiling.

Do keep an eye out on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+, as well as here, where we will keep you updated on our progress.


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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

The results of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission survey give cause for grave concern and demonstrate that not enough is being done to prevent Britain remaining an exclusive ‘club’ at the top of our society. Relative social mobility, the extent to which an individual’s chances depend on their parent’s class or income, seems to be shrinking.

This summer Thomas Picketty’s book Capital: in the 21st Century reignited a debate for western governments to address the issue of inequality. The book has ignited political discussion across Western Europe; Picketty’s central thesis is where the rate of return on capital outstrips economic growth, wealth inequality ineluctably rises. The impressive amount of data he uses to back up his thesis is why the book has received such acclaim. However despite the excitement which surrounded the book and a call for action, today’s survey results are a reminder that clearly concern about inequality and social mobility has not translated into action. Or that any action has taken effect?

In our recent submission to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s State of the Nation report we called on an end to unpaid internships and a recent survey of our members showed us that not only do our members feel strongly on this issue but 76% of the 1,500 surveyed also felt their companies should pay the living wage. Social mobility cannot be viewed in isolation and the level of income inequality is an issue that all three of the parties should address. The report recognises that practical steps can be taken to prevent the drive towards improving social mobility settling into a pedestrian pace.

The commission has rightly called on government to collect data on its staff and lead by example and we hope the government will take note of this. ACCA is currently working to do the same; a founding feature of ACCA is accessibility and we continually review our policies to ensure that our qualification is open to everyone whatever their background.

Today’s results demonstrate that we cannot afford to soften and settle into a pedestrian pace, but the reality is that change is slow. Inter-generational mobility, as the name suggests, takes a lifetime to achieve. There is a need for practical solutions and we urge organisations of all sizes to adopt the Professions for Good Social Mobility Toolkit. The toolkit does not claim to be a silver bullet but is designed for organisations to be able to tailor it according to resource. Built from the ground up, the toolkit is fit for use by small employer organisations with no dedicated HR functions, with easy low-cost recommendations.

The SMCP Commission’s survey has done well to put further pressure on governments to act – public bodies must ensure they do too.

ACCA will be publishing a report on social mobility in the autumn.

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

Membership of the European Union has been an issue the accountancy profession has made little noise about and it’s viewed as a political issue. However, EU membership is an economic matter which is why here at ACCA we feel an obligation to take a view on membership.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP described leaving the EU as “economic suicide.” He is right. But why do we care? Because accountants, perhaps now more than ever as we emerge from a global recession, have an important role to play in the recovery, future growth and in guarding against future risk to the UK’s economy.

Accountants traditionally look at the numbers, and they paint a convincing picture of why the UK should not back out of the EU. However, the profession is seeing its role and remit broadening into a much more strategic, forward-looking role in business and from that perspective too, giving up on the economic European Union would be bad news for UK plc.

ACCA sees staying in Europe as a no-brainer, and we aren’t alone. Nissan’s chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga has pointed to the major benefits for foreign investors in the UK being part of the EU. As Nissan owns the biggest car factory in Sunderland, employing 6,100 people, and is supported by UK supply chains that employ even more, Shiga’s comments should not be ignored.

Leaving the EU is also bad for the smaller businesses further down the supply chain. SMEs would actually benefit greatly from an even more integrated European Union. SMEs could increase export trade by 45 per cent if the remaining barriers in the Union are lifted.

But this issue isn’t just about trade. It’s about people.

Chief finance officers tell us that overseas experience will be a vital skill for tomorrow’s finance leaders. That sentiment fits with ACCA’s qualification – an exportable asset. You can study it in the UK and take the qualification to the Czech Republic or other markets (and vice-versa). In the EU, that mobility is made easier by free movement of people laws.

The UK benefits from being able to access talent from across Europe – employees bring with them market knowledge and close links with clients, customers and other stakeholders. This cultural connection is vital in a global business world.

The EU is also a vehicle for social mobility. ACCA is guilty of repeating the same messages around social mobility, but can you blame us? Since our infancy in 1904, social mobility has been the central principle of our qualification. Who you are and where you come from is no obstacle to the ACCA Qualification. That social mobility principle also applies in the EU.

Social mobility can include upward progression across Europe in finance and beyond, as well as within the UK? Cutting that continental option off and confining social mobility to within the UK’s shores is strangling that upward mobility.

This isn’t just about the current workforce either. Opportunities for Britain’s younger generation won’t be there if major employers have to leave the UK. Where will they get work – Europe? That won’t be so easy if the UK throws in the towel with the Union.

And if jobs and social mobility aren’t concerns for some, perhaps the numbers – more familiar territory for the accountancy profession – can paint a more convincing picture as to why a UK out of Europe is a bleak place.

The EU is the largest economy in world, worth £11 trillion, ahead of the US (£10.3 trillion) and China (£5.4 trillion). Nearly 34 per cent of world trade originates in Europe, worth around £3.5 trillion annually. The EU is also the top trading partner for 80 countries.

UK companies benefit by £500m a year, while 50 per cent of foreign direct investment to the UK comes from other EU member states. Over 40 per cent of UK exports go to the EU and they are tariff-free. More than 300,000 UK companies operate in the EU.

The EU-US trade deal is expected to generate €80bn (£67.7bn) worth of benefits for the EU and create 2m jobs. The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement saves EU exporters £1.35bn annually in tariffs.

Amidst the emotional scaremongering about the EU’s threat to British culture, the figures paint a clear picture that big business, overseas investors, small business and UK employment stand to lose if we drop out of the EU.

It’s difficult to ignore the arguments for staying in Europe. The consequences of leaving will hit the UK hard.

This first featured in City AM, October 2013

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

Social mobility and access to the professions has been headline news following publication of the latest government report, recently, along with serious criticism of the careers advice offered to school pupils. The original idea for creating a Professions Week as a collective response to the challenges from professional bodies came over a year ago – 15 bodies came together to make this happen, and I was delighted to be chairing the group.

As Baroness Shephard said at the launch event at the House of Commons, it’s rare for professional bodies to collaborate in this way. So why bother? Between us the professional bodies involved have nearly a million members and students in the UK; ACCA alone has over 140,000. That’s a powerful army of professionals who can help spread the message to young people that a career as a professional is both attractive and accessible. Part of the aims of the week were to mobilise our members to do just that – go into schools, colleges and universities and talk about their career and experiences. I have met many ACCA members who have come through a non-traditional route into the profession, and they have stories that will be inspirational to young people making big decisions about their future. ACCA was founded on a principle of open access, and we still hold true to that value today – it’s a real differentiator for us.

One of the other aims of Professions Week was to make the government aware of the role professional bodies play in providing a link between schools and businesses, helping to get the right advice out there at the right time. ACCA delivers public value, it’s embedded in our qualifications, standards and ethics. Providing access to a career as a finance professional to talented people, regardless of their background, benefits the employers we work with and ultimately their customers and the wider public.

So what do young people think about a career as an accountant. Research was conducted as part of professions week with 1,200 young people from less advantaged backgrounds. The good news is that 90% of those we asked have heard of careers in the financial areas, such as an accountant or tax adviser. And 39% of those said they have a very good idea what an accountant does, with 54% saying they have a rough idea. This sounds positive, until we explore some of the other outcomes of the research. 23% have someone in their close network who is an accountant – the highest of all the professions listed. So where do the other 70% get their information from, and is it reliable? 45% think you need a university degree for a financial career, which of course isn’t true, so the right information definitely isn’t getting through. The other challenge is that 18% are interested in a career as an accountant – that’s a relatively good proportion given the number of professional careers we’re talking about, but if it’s founded on misconceptions, how can we reach these young people? And more worryingly, only 26% think they could become an accountant, even if they wanted to. The final hurdle is around their perception of a professional career. Thankfully, more respondents said it was exciting than those that said it was dull. But there are a lot that think it’s linked to paperwork and not people…most accountants I know say communication skills are paramount.

What we have a mixed picture, with a real desire to increase the visibility of the accessibility and attraction of an accountancy career. Last week was the start of a move to play an even greater role in reaching these young people with the right messages, and I know we can build on this. At an ACCA members event last week I put a call out for every member to play a part. We have provided the tools we have the right qualification, we have the right history…now is the time to take action.

ACCA at the conferences

Kicking off ACCA's series of UK party conference fringe meetings was a CentreForum/ACCA roundtable debate on breaking down barriers to social mobility. CentreForum's Anthony Rowlands was in the chair, with a panel made up of Nick Clegg's right-hand man Norman Lamb MP, ACCA's Neil Stevenson, CentreForum's Gill Wyness, and former teacher and academic John Howson.

The debate kicked off with a sobering assessment from Norman Lamb of the UK's current performance on social mobility – an issue that is a 'central priority' for Nick Clegg.

Lamb told the audience that an OECD study of 12 countries placed the UK at the bottom of the pile when it comes to social mobility; there are more British black men aged 18-20 in prison than there are at a Russell Group University; and that while from 2006-2010 the nearby borough of Sandwell had sent no school leavers to Oxbridge, Eton and Westminster schools had sent 394 and 310 school leavers to Oxbridge, respectively. For many in school, he argued, the assumption is that they cannot succeed.

The use of university statistics is fairly typical in any discussion of social mobility, and some at the fringe meeting queried this focus. John Howson and a Prince's Trust speaker from the audience both pointed out that debate tends to focus on young people that go the whole way through the system, from pre-school to university. What about those that want to leave school at 16?

ACCA's Neil Stevenson picked up on this point too, noting the availability of professional qualifications as an alternative to university qualifications. Stevenson said that the professions needed to do more to widen the recruitment pool for the professions – something being worked on by the multi-organisation coalition ‘Professions for Good’ – but that ACCA had always had a long tradition of removing barriers to entry to its qualification and ensuring open and fair access.

The 'university-only route' was not the only assumption challenged during the evening: how we see social mobility was questioned too. Is it about moving up a wage ladder, or is it about being able to do the job that you want to do, or that most suits your skills? In other words, is social mobility about wages or job satisfaction?

Here, all the panellists were somewhat united: it's about getting where you want to go, not about the wages. As Neil Stevenson said, social mobility should be about rewarding careers and giving young people the right tools and opportunities to achieve what they want to in life.

How to achieve this was naturally a topic for discussion too. Creating a school system that encourages aspiration and success was a common response, while Gill Wyness proposed a reform of superficial work experience opportunities in schools.

Lamb went through the steps that the Government is taking to address Britain's sluggish social mobility. He pointed out extra funding for early years care, the pupil premium, and more transparency at university level. Hinting at the importance of school reform, he added that for decades, our school system had failed to deliver opportunities for children.

While these measures won praise from some of those present, potential problems with them were raised by others. One audience member asked how the Government could tackle the problem of the importance of family support when it comes to future success.

Wyness applauded the Government's social mobility focus, but argued that the use of information and support was too passive: parent-support classes are now available, but might only attract those parents already engaged; plenty of university information on future wages and fees are available, but will only be found by those interested in going to university anyway. The Government is on the right lines, but needs to be bolder, said Wyness.

Finally, why does social mobility matter? Neil Stevenson argued that it can create much-needed diversity for businesses, but the final word goes to Norman Lamb. For the Lib Dem MP, it is 'morally wrong' that some children are not given the opportunity to make something of themselves. For him, promoting social mobility is central to what being a Lib Dem is all about.