Home POLITICAL NEWS Social mobility board quits over lack of progress

Social mobility board quits over lack of progress

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Media captionMr Milburn said Brexit meant ministers were unlikely to have the energy to tackle “one of the biggest challenges” facing the UK

All four members of the board of the government’s Social Mobility Commission have stood down in protest at the lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”.

Ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn, who chairs the commission, said he had “little hope” the current government could make the “necessary” progress.

Tory former cabinet minister Baroness Shephard is among three others to quit.

The government said Mr Milburn’s term had come to an end and it had already decided to get some “fresh blood” in.

It said it was making “good progress” on social mobility and focusing on disadvantaged areas.

The commission is charged with monitoring the government’s progress in “freeing children from poverty and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential”.

In his resignation letter to Theresa May, published in The Observer, Mr Milburn said ministers were preoccupied with Brexit.

He wrote that it had “become obvious that the government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support” to social mobility as individual ministers such as the education secretary.

He added: “I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.”


‘All-consuming’

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake

Sour grapes? Political point scoring?

Neither, according to the former Labour minister, and his colleagues on the board who include a former Conservative education secretary.

Their frustration demonstrates the extent to which Brexit is all-consuming for the government.

Leaving the EU is taking up so much time, energy and effort that there is little capacity for anything else to get done.

Even on an issue which is a personal priority for the prime minister.


Mr Milburn took up his role in July 2012.

The other board members standing down are Paul Gregg, a professor of economic and social policy at the University of Bath, and David Johnston, the chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation charity. Gillian Shephard is a former Tory education secretary and was deputy chair of the commission.

‘Unable to commit’

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Milburn said divisions in Britain were becoming wider and criticised a “lack of meaningful political action”, pointing to ongoing the squeeze on wages.

The government lacks the “bandwidth” to tackle social division while also dealing with Brexit, he said, describing his task as being like “pushing water uphill”.

Mr Milburn said Education Secretary Justin Greening had been a “champion for the cause” and had wanted him to stay in post.

Ms Greening did not deny this when she appeared on the Marr Show.

“He has done a fantastic job but his term had come to an end and I think it was about getting some fresh blood into the commission,” she said.

In a report published last week, the commission said economic, social and local divisions laid bare by the Brexit vote needed to be addressed to prevent a rise in far right or hard left extremism.

‘Totally stalled’

The commission added that London and its commuter belt appeared to be a “different country” to coastal, rural and former industrial areas as young people there faced lower pay and fewer top jobs.

The resignations come as Mrs May, who entered Downing Street in July 2016 promising to tackle the “burning injustices” that hold back poorer people, faces questions over the future of senior minister Damian Green – who is effectively her second in command – and is under pressure as Brexit talks continue.

In an interview in the Sunday Times, Mr Milburn, a former health secretary, said: “There has been indecision, dysfunctionality and a lack of leadership.”

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Image caption Theresa May pledged to “make Britain a country that works for everyone” when she became PM

The government said it had already told Mr Milburn it planned to appoint a new chair and would hold an open application process for the role.

It said it was committed to fighting injustice “and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them”.

It highlighted its increase of the national living wage, cuts in income tax for the lowest paid and doubling of free childcare in England.

The process of appointing a new chairperson and commissioners would begin as soon as possible, it added.

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said the resignations came as “no surprise”.

“As inequality has grown under the Tories, social mobility has totally stalled,” he said. “How well people do in life is still based on class background rather than on talent or effort.”

Article Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-42212270