Chloe Smith: ‘No child in Norfolk should ever have to think about their limits’

PUBLISHED: 19:30 17 February 2016

Children from the poorer backgrounds struggle to move up the social scale, particularly in Norwich and Norfolk. Photo: Steve Adams

Children from the poorer backgrounds struggle to move up the social scale, particularly in Norwich and Norfolk. Photo: Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

I grew up in Norfolk, and I love Norfolk. I’m really proud to be a Norwich MP.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith takes part in debate on social mobility. Norwich North MP Chloe Smith takes part in debate on social mobility.

But last week I had to speak out in Parliament about the truth that many children who grow up in Norwich are not able to get on.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has recently produced its Index of Social Mobility. It shows that the poorest children growing up in the Norwich City Council area have some of the worst life chances in England.

The report compares the chances for children from poorer backgrounds in doing well at school, finding a good job, and having a decent standard of living once they are an adult, including owning their own home. In simple terms, Norwich’s poorest kids are not getting the chances that people do in other places in the country.

We already knew that Norwich has more children defined as in poverty than the national average. There is a lot to do both nationally and locally about this.

The report is about the boundaries of Norwich City Council and I hope they take it as seriously as I do. The report also goes deep into educational data and sadly for that reason at least it comes as little surprise – the county council’s children’s services department has been improving from inadequacy for some time and Norwich schools historically under-perform.

We all need to work together to improve Norwich children’s prospects, across party, across different bits of government, and across the public, private and charity sectors.

We need to build on work that is already going on, such as projects to get more childcare in Norwich, get young people into jobs, and bring more jobs to Norwich through having better transport links; there is also a lot of good effort already by the business community to work with schools to give pupils better knowledge of opportunities.

I call on Norwich businesspeople to step up even further, and work with every school to provide a network and an opportunity for inspiration, focused on the poorest children who need it the most. I want the poorest Norwich children to have the knowledge, skills, confidence and networks to meet and take those chances.

I went into politics because I was that 16-year-old growing up in Norfolk, frustrated by the lack of opportunities, and keen to do my bit to make it better. I had loving, supportive parents and encouraging teachers but little access to people or places. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

As a teenager I laughed a lot at Harry Enfield, who performed the sketch where women were told to “know their limits”. Of course it was funny because it had once been true. I don’t want it ever to be true that a child in Norwich today should see limits. I had the luck to meet an excellent role model at that time, my then MP, now Baroness Shephard, who is in fact the deputy chairman of the commission which has authored this piece of work.

Both Norfolk women, we share the burning belief that it is not where you come from that counts, it is where you are going. It’s what defines us as Conservatives, as we also believe that if you work hard you should be able to get on.

So what does “social mobility” mean in plain English? It means nothing should stand in your way if you want to change your life. It means that no one has to do what their parents did; everyone should have access to the opportunities that mean they can break out if they want to.

Meeting new people matters a lot.

A successful, energetic Norwich man in his twenties told me how he only knew his ideas were worth something when a trusted figure told him “that’s called being an entrepreneur”. Someone else who was struggling to find work told me work experience was the most valuable thing to him because it had given him access to people who he’d never otherwise have met, and who stretched him.

And a senior local charity leader shared with me the experience that many young people the charity helps don’t know what direction they should take at key decision points, which could be because of lack of positive role models in families and communities.

This is a complex problem and there is no a simple, single answer. Good advice and a wide range of opportunities through schools and colleges must surely be a part of it. Everyone needs knowledge and skills, and confidence, and then good people around them to open up the opportunities.

Since I spoke in Parliament last week, people have got in touch with me wanting to help make a difference, and there is a lot of work to do.

We all know amazing young people in Norwich. For some of the poorest, their potential is shut away.

Let’s help them break it out.

The views above are those of Chloe Smith. Chloe is Conservative MP for North Norwich.

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