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‘Hunger for change’, says Social Mobility Commission chairman

The commission’s chairman Alan Milburn warned “whole tracts of Britain feel left behind”.

Britain risks becoming more divided unless there is a renewed effort to reduce the gap between the “haves and have-nots”, the influential Social Mobility Commission has warned.

In a damning report the commission found two decades of government efforts had failed to deliver enough progress and urged ministers to adopt new approaches to tackle the problems in British society.

The commission’s chairman Alan Milburn warned “whole tracts of Britain feel left behind” in “volatile and uncertain times”.

In an analysis of efforts to bridge the gap between rich and poor under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May, the commission found failings at every stage of a person’s life.

Mr Milburn said the country was facing major questions about its future role in the world, national security, the economy and social cohesion.

“As the recent general election seems to demonstrate, there is no consensus in the nation about how best to answer these questions. The public mood is sour, sometimes angry,” he said.

“Whole tracts of Britain feel left behind. Whole communities feel the benefits of globalisation have passed them by. Whole sections of society feel they are not getting a fair chance to succeed. The growing sense that we have become an us-and-them society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation.”

The commission used a traffic light system to assess progress in improving social mobility at key stages in people’s lives, early years, school, training or further/higher education and then into the world of work.

No stage was given a green light, with early years and schools given an amber rating while the later “young people” and “working lives” stages received a red rating.

Overall, only seven policies scored a green, with 14 ambers and 16 reds.

Former Labour minister Mr Milburn said: “Our country has reached an inflection point. If we go on as we have been, the divisions that have opened up in British society are likely to widen, not narrow.

“There is a growing sense in the nation that these divisions are not sustainable, socially, economically or politically. There is a hunger for change.

“The policies of the past have brought some progress, but many are no longer fit for purpose in our changing world.”

The commission recommended that the Prime Minister should put in place a single cross-government plan to deliver the social mobility agenda, with 10-year targets to halt the short-term nature of many interventions.

A social mobility test should be applied to all new public policy and every Budget should identify how taxpayers’ money is being redistributed to address geographical, wealth and generational divides.

The commission said the Prime Minister should “abandon plans to extend grammar schools” and instead focus on new collaborative approaches to turning around failing schools.

The Government has already reined in its plans for a new generations of grammars following the general election, with the Queen’s Speech promising only to work with Parliament to bring forward proposals for school improvement “that can command a majority”.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Tackling social mobility is at the heart of the government’s ambition to make Britain a country that works for everyone.”

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