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Government can 'walk and chew gum at the same time', education minister says

Government is 'absolutely committed' to improving social mobility following resignation of entire board of commission, minister insists

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Government is 'absolutely committed' to improving social mobility following resignation of entire board of commission, minister insists

The government is not preoccupied with Brexit and can "walk and chew gum at the same time", an education minister has said.

Robert Goodwill said the government was "absolutely committed" to improving social mobility. His remarks came after the entire board of the social mobility commission quit yesterday over an "unfair" Britain.

The education minister, answering an urgent question in the Commons, was urged to reform the commission to "create a social justice commission at the heart of Downing Street" following the resignations. 

In his resignation letter, Alan Milburn, the former chair of the social mobility commission, said the government was focused on Brexit and did not "seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality."

In the letter, addressed to Theresa May, Mr Milburn added: "I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action."

'Absolutely committed'

But today Mr Goodwill told MPs: "I can also make clear that whilst Brexit is an important priority of this government, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

"We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we continue this process of improving social mobility to everyone in our country."

Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Commons' Education Select Committee, had asked: "Will (Mr Goodwill) look at the idea of using this opportunity in terms of the social mobility commission of reforming it to create a social justice commission at the heart of Downing Street and using it to assess the impact of every bit of domestic legislation on social justice?"

Mr Goodwill replied: "Can I put on record our commitment to maintain the social mobility commission – it's done great work over the last five years, and I once again pay tribute to Alan Milburn for his work as chair.

"We intend to refresh the commission, we need to bring in some new people – some people that will hold us to account, some people that will hold our feet to the fire – to ensure that we get a good spread of representation on that particular commission."

Mr Halfon's question came on the same day that he said not enough was being done to address “social injustice” that was “endemic in every part of our education system”. 

He called on the government to introduce a levy that independent schools would have to pay to bring in disadvantaged pupils.

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