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I stand here today to make the case that this country should take up a noble cause. The cause of social mobility. The cause of equality of opportunity for all.

Because there can be nothing more fundamental for people than to have an equal shot at life.

Opportunity is the most precious commodity there is out there. People will strive for it like few other things.

People will risk dying for it. I’ve met them. They’ll cross oceans in a boat that might never make it to get more opportunity for themselves and their children.

It’s bound up with human rights and freedom.

And it’s bound up with human nature. The simple instinct to achieve things that give our lives meaning to us.

That’s opportunity.

And when more people have it, it’s better for them and I’d argue that it’s better for us all.

We need a collective agreement in Britain.

It should be talent and hard work that determines where you get to in this country, not privilege.

But that’s not the case in our country. It’s never been the case in our country. We’re a country where class still matters.

Only 60% of people surveyed by the Sutton Trust believe people in the UK have a good opportunity to get ahead.

And that needs to change.

And this matters to us as the Conservative Party, because we’re about effort and reward.

So if we see a Britain, where some talented young people can get on in life because they get a good start, find the right opportunities.

But then there are other young people who don’t connect up with opportunity…all because of a randomness of the start they had…..
That’s unacceptable.

No one chooses their start. Mine was in Rotherham. I went to my local comprehensive, I had a Saturday job in Morrisons supermarket.

I had a dad who was unemployed for a year so I know what it’s like in a family on benefits.

But it’s unacceptable that in Britain, your start so determines your future.

…..this party should be the first to challenge it.

And yet, sometimes it feels like we’re the last.

It’s now 31 years since this party last won an election with any kind of substantial majority.

We’ve traditionally connected with people’s heads. They know it’s sensible to vote Conservative if you want a strong economy, if you want our public finances well managed.

But we haven’t won that big electoral mandate we had in decades past, because sensible isn’t enough. We’ve not connected with their hearts.

We’ve not been a party that’s spoken enough to the aspirations and the challenges of younger generations of people in our country.

In fact, if we’re to play our role in this democracy and give young voters a choice, we must set this out. We have a duty to.

The Conservative Party must stand for building a country where talent, hard work and competence counts for much more than privilege, cash and connections.

The Conservative’s clarion call on opportunity and aspiration, when I was a child, growing up in Rotherham it reached out to me in a very basic way and my instincts. Instincts of working hard, of ambition, of wanting to have a better life than my parents. Instincts of fairness, of how our country should work.

I didn’t even know what a politician was then. As far as I knew, they were just people my dad shouted at when they came on the tv. He used to call them berks. I never knew that I’d become one of those people myself.

And we should never underestimate how powerful a message of opportunity is for people. If they know we’re on their side, taking away the barriers that spurs them on too. It did me.

Social Mobility characterized my own life.

All those times I had set backs on my own journey. Jobs I didn’t get – in one case because I’d not been on a gap year. It didn’t matter. I took them on the chin. It taught me resilience. But there were no free passes.

The path has to be clearer for the next generation to make its way.

And like any battle on equality – whether it’s gender, LGBT, if you’re not actively winning, you start losing. And that’s what happened in Britain.

The percentage of people who think we have had equality of opportunity has fallen.

We should leave no stone unturned, no bastion unchallenged to level that playing field.

It is a question of what kind of country do we want to build beyond Brexit?

This will be a new phase of our nation’s history. But what will it be? That’s up to us.

For Britain in the 21st century, what’s next? What do we stand for now?

Labour has the wrong answers. Rooted in anger, and envy. They’d level opportunity down, not up. I saw that for myself in Rotherham.

Many people who voted Leave were fed up with a country that seemed to work for some but not others.

The Prime Minister has rightly talked about burning injustices.

But I believe we can fix this. We can change it.

But it requires a conscious decision.

Brexit can be a catalyst to make that choice. For things to be different.

And we’ll all have a role to play. Government yes, but business too.

In March I launched the Social Mobility Pledge. It’s supported by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, and the Federation of Small Businesses.

It asks businesses to commit to three simple things.

Partnering up with a school – that’s easy

Opening up to do apprenticeships or work placements

And having open and fair recruitment practices, like name blind recruitment or contextual recruitment.

So far, the response from businesses has been remarkable.

We’ve got companies large and small, from ITV to Aviva, Marks & Spencer to John Lewis, Adidas to Severn Trent Water.

We’re well on the way to having a million employees working in businesses who’ve already made the commitment in little over a month.

But it has to just be the start. Businesses driving social mobility, working with civil society has to be the norm.

Every single business, large or small that signs up to the Social Mobility Pledge is a step closer to a Britain that has equality of opportunity. If you want to help, get yours to do it.

Speeches like this do matter. But they’re not enough.

You’re always going to hear talk from politicians.

Actions speak louder than words. That’s why I’m going beyond that to take action. Committing as many companies as I can to the Social Mobility Pledge. To actively make a change on the ground for young people.

And all this is hard work.

There’s no magic wand you can wave that will create a Britain with equality of opportunity.

Some politicians will say – look, this policy will fix it. They’re wrong.

It’s more complex than that. It’s more than about government.

This is about a culture shift in Britain, changing our national DNA more permanently.

We need to consciously seek out the places where inequality of opportunity exists and sort them out. Bit by bit, piece by piece, step by step. Company by Company.

There’ll be a load of hard yards to be done for a load of hard years, but it’ll be worth it.

Because in the 21st century, for any country, success is about human capital.

And the country that gets the most out of its biggest asset, its people, will do the best.

That should be us.

We should reinvent ourselves in our own eyes and the world’s eyes.

From the country with the oldest, toughest class ceiling to the one that smashed it and finally, now has none.

A country where people really do feel they can have an equal shot.

What kind of things might that country achieve, how much further might we go? How much prouder would we feel of ourselves?

I know some people who’re happy with the status quo. Because it works for them, but that’s not enough anymore. Because for too many people it doesn’t work. And it didn’t work for me.

You shouldn’t have to beat the system to get on in Britain. That’s how it felt for me. You shouldn’t have to be lucky to beat the system to get on in Britain.

Change is going to happen to Britain.

The Conservative Party has to get ahead of this curve and we need to re-present ourselves to the British people and a brand new generation of voters as the party that delivers equality of opportunity.

Those people who joined Momentum, they had a mission.

We need a mission and this should be it. An equal opportunity society. Levelled up Britain.

And if we look back in 15 or 20 years, and this is still a place, where we haven’t made the change.

Where kids growing up in different parts of the country still have such different paths ahead of them….

……well we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

I’ve said I’m already taking action on this. That’s what the Social Mobility Pledge is all about. Action, and change and opportunity. Businesses as the solution.

I’m putting out a call to action for social mobility to anyone who wants to take up the cause, who thinks this matters to do the same. Make the changes you can to level the playing field on opportunity.

On behalf of every kid who’s grown up and deserves the right to be the best version of themselves.

On behalf of communities who’ve produced every bit as much talent as anywhere else, but just don’t have the opportunities on their doorstep to make the most of it

On behalf of businesses, who are crying out for that talent – and it’s there, but they still can’t find enough of it.

On behalf of us all, because, if we can’t go forward together as a united country, we can’t go forward at all.

That is why this is a noble cause.

Social Mobility is not a zero sum game. It makes all of our lives better in the end.

That’s why it must be the priority for our country, that’s why it has to be the priority for the Conservative Party.

The guiding light, the lodestone, the mission.

Just because Britain hasn’t achieved equality of opportunity in the past, I don’t accept that has to be our future.

It’s our choice.

People change things.

I took a decision to devote my time to social mobility because I feel it’s so overwhelmingly important.

It was far more important to me than any personal privilege of a role I might have had in Government.

I cannot emphasis enough at the individual level how important a role we can all play in being the change makers.

Working together, we can build a very different Britain.

Everyone has the right to be the best version of themselves.

And so does this country. It’s time to unleash the talent.

The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP is former Secretary of State for Education