I have been working with the Social Mobility Pledge to help business across the country give opportunity and experience to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Below is what social mobility means to me. We know that a child’s life chances are pretty much determined by the time they are six months old. That needs to change and I want to ensure everyone can achieve their potential.
Social mobility, to me, isn’t just an empty phrase. It’s something that has defined my life.
I grew up in Wester Hailes, just south-west of Edinburgh. It’s an area that has proud roots in industry, and of course in football – die hard supporters of our beloved hearts.
I grew up in a family that worked as coopers and slaughtermen. I still remember clearly my uncle arriving home from work with the smell of whisky emanating from his overalls – there’s no wonder I can’t touch the stuff to this day.
I never really knew my dad. I was only nine when he passed away suddenly. He was the same age when he died as I am today. My mum was younger and she was left with us two boys to look after. I’ve never really appreciated what it must have been like for her back then. Two boys, nine and 13 years old, trying to make sense of it all as she just got on with it.
My mum knew that hard work was the only way to survive – Woolworths as a cleaner, The Busy Bee Bar as a cook, Ladbrokes as a cashier.
I’ve followed that determination and what my mum had to do – working all hours, patching things together, finding a way through, grabbing opportunities when she could, making her own luck and having an attitude that no-one could tell me I couldn’t achieve something. She was written off through no fault of her own. It was only through her hard work that I was able to go to university.
It would have been an easy option to leave school and earn money. But I didn’t. I stayed on through education and made it to university, and this was only made possible by a combination of what mum did and me having a part-time job from the age of 13.
Life was at times tough. It was tough for all of us, for many of my friends and those around our local communities. But this isn’t just my story. I am sure this is the story of countless others who face barriers throughout growing up – often when they’re too young to understand the barriers are even there.
For me, setting out to boost social mobility is about removing as many of the barriers as we can. Indeed, many people are dealt many difficult cards. But how can we as a society seek to level out the playing field of opportunity.
I think this is about giving people a hand up, making them realise the opportunities that are out there, and arming them with the right inspiration, information and resources to get to where they want to be.
While government support and the welfare state is absolutely crucial, and an area where more has to be done, there is also a great responsibility for businesses to step up and to be doing more to fill this social mobility gap.
In short, businesses across the country, large, medium and small, need to be doing their bit in local communities and indeed across the enstire United Kingdom.
This is why I am proud to be working with the Social Mobility Pledge, which has signed up 200 businesses representing over 2 million employees, to honour three commitments that are crucial to social mobility at different life stages – from partnerships with schools and colleges; offering meaningful work experience and internships; to making recruitment practices fairer.
In the months ahead I will be visiting local schools, colleges and businesses to hear views on the barriers people feel are standing in the way of where they are now and where they want to be.
I am doing this because I know that hard working and talented people are everywhere across Edinburgh, but opportunity needs to be there too.