The UK’s Big Six energy companies have raked in more than a billion pounds of profit as record hikes in bills force many families to choose between heating and eating this winter. Yet not a single one of them could be bothered to enter the country’s leading Index on how well employers are doing to improve social mobility.
They need to do far more to prove they are taking their social responsibilities seriously.
Easing the pressure of the economic crisis must be a priority for the government and private sector alike. The cost-of-living crisis is a serious threat to social mobility. It will undoubtedly exacerbate Britain’s deep social divide, limiting the life choices of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
More must be done to address this divide and it can’t all be left to government. The workplace is as important as the classroom in increasing social mobility. Employers must take responsibility as well.
For six years our Social Mobility Employer Index has been the leading authority on employer-led social mobility. It ranks UK employers, from both the private and public sectors, on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to talent from all social backgrounds.
There are reasons to be optimistic. Many employers have used the cost-of-living crisis as a clarion call to double down on social mobility. We’ve seen examples of employers changing how they recruit to remove any bias and improve the social diversity of their workforces. Others are going the extra mile by providing accommodation for young people living outside of London so they are able to participate in work experience and so get a foot on the first rung of the employment ladder. Firms such as PwC are no longer just providing technology for the duration of an internship but are allowing young people to keep the devices. All these actions deserve credit.
Yet this year just 3 per cent of the 149 entrants – which between them employ almost 1 million people – were energy, water, or utility companies. The National Grid and BP joined and both placed in the top 75 – a positive step forward but none of the Big Six energy companies entered. That is not good enough.
With record profits at a time of economic crisis, these companies must do much more to tackle social disadvantage – and be seen to do so. Entering the Index is a key means of demonstrating that actions speak louder than words. When employers participate the Social Mobility Foundation reviews and recommends changes to companies’ recruitment and retention policies, so they can improve the impact they have still further.
Despite commitments in the government’s recent Autumn Statement the pandemic has already wiped out progress on closing the attainment gap between students on free school meals and those not. The education engine to drive higher levels of social mobility is spluttering. That places a bigger responsibility on employers to step up to the plate. They can help build a society where aptitude and ability, not background or birth, determine how far people progress.
The solution to Britain’s deepening social divide requires a twin approach through work and school. Employers must double their efforts to improve social mobility. Energy companies cannot stand idly by and wait for Index employers to lead. They have a moral responsibility to act.