Candidates could be asked to disclose their parents’ jobs; greater emphasis on regional recruitment

The civil service has pledged to take action, including asking for background information on candidates during the recruitment process, to address ongoing concerns over a lack of socioeconomic diversity in Whitehall.

Unveiling the latest stage of a ‘Talent Action Plan’ to boost the prospects of individuals from lower-income backgrounds in the corridors of power, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock pledged to focus on metrics, including tracking candidates’ backgrounds during recruitment.

This could include asking for details of parents’ professions, home postcode at the age of 14 and whether an individual ever received free school meals. A total of 150 large employers, including Barclays, Deloitte and O2, have signed up to follow the plan in their own recruitment processes.

Hancock said he hoped to confront a traditional reluctance to discuss social background in the workplace: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. The civil service is determined to lead the way on social mobility, which is why we are going to work with major private sector employers to develop a national measure for social mobility so that we can take action and break down barriers to employment.”

In 2014, the Cabinet Office published the findings of a report that suggested just 4.4 per cent of successful applicants to Whitehall’s flagship graduate scheme were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and that they perceived the programme as “intimidating”.

The Fast Stream selection process for graduates entering the civil service will be reformed, and at least 750 Fast Track apprenticeships each year will be included among a total of 30,000 new apprenticeships to be hired by 2020.

The civil service has already committed to regionalising its selection process for candidates, and is proposing to shorten the average time taken to hire to no more than 12 weeks. It will specifically target apprenticeship opportunities at those from poorer backgrounds, increasing the use of internships and work experience as well as conducting outreach work at universities with high proportions of students from working-class backgrounds.

The two-year plan also calls for each government department to have its own plan for improving socioeconomic diversity. Hancock said: “There’s a world of opportunity in public service, and we need to do more to make sure everyone has access to that chance. To do that, we need to hold up a mirror to ourselves and see what we must do to improve. I want the civil service to make the most of all of Britain’s talents, to reflect modern Britain.”

He said he hoped to develop a social mobility index, in conjunction with the private sector, and to address broader diversity issues. “The proportions of people from ethnic minorities or declaring a disability are at historic highs, and women make up 54 per cent of the civil service, but the representation of all these groups at senior levels is still far too low,” he said.

“The public sector mustn’t shut people out. It should reach out. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense to bring in as many different ways of thinking as possible.”

Last week, Facebook said it had used data visualisation techniques to track the professions of 5.6 million pairs of parents and children globally. It found surprisingly strong correlations between the groups: the son of a lawyer father is 4.6 times more likely to practise medicine than other men, for example.