Commissioners quit over slow progress of social mobility

4 Dec 17

The members of an independent statutory body set up to improve the progress of social mobility in the UK quit over the weekend.

Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who chaired the commission, wrote in his resignation letter – published by The Observer newspaper - the government had not committed enough time or resources to addressing social inequality.  

His fellow commissioner Gillian Shepherd, a Conservative peer who served in John Major’s government, also stepped down.

Milburn’s resignation letter said: “The worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it.

“It’s almost better never to say that you’ll do anything about it.

“It’s disappointing at least that the government hasn’t got its shoulder to the wheel in the way it should to deal with these structural issues that lead to social division and political alienation in the country”.

Milburn warned that if wages did not rise in a sustained period of time that could mean “more anger, more resentment and creates a breeding ground for populism” amongst the population.

He pointed out the United States had seen real average earnings remain flat for 30 years.

The New Local Government Network think-tank told Public Finance the resignations were “a warning shot to the government”.

Adam Lent, director of NLGN, said that ministers “should no longer delay on reforming policy and funding to help the poor and vulnerable, and in a sustainable way.

“Local government has the requisite knowledge and network to make the changes needed in early intervention and prevention, particularly in relation to children and young people, but crucially the government has failed to respond to this in the Budget, or even the industrial strategy white paper”.

“Hopefully it won’t take another surprise like this for action to be taken”, Lent added.

The resignations come days after the commission published a report highlighting which regions in the UK are dominated by low wages and poor quality jobs.

That report urged councils to become Living Wage employers, pool resources to subsidise transport in rural areas and change the way Pupil Premium funding was used.

The Local Government Association, responding to that report, argued councils should be given greater powers to address social inequality, and called on government to give local authorities “oversight of all school improvement” as well as extra funds to cover spending on local welfare support and public health.

The LGA also demanded that the borrowing cap was lifted so that councils “can build more homes for those in need, and plug the £2bn funding gap for children’s services”.

The charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report today saying the numbers of children and pensioners in poverty were rising

The Social Mobility Commission was set up by Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister, in 2011.

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