Mass walkout a blow to Theresa May’s social policy

Departing social mobility board chairman says there is ‘little hope’ government can make progress toward ‘fairer Britain’

British prime minister Theresa May, and her husband, Philip, visit a florist on Saturday. Her Social Mobility Commission has quit. Photograph: Reuters

British prime minister Theresa May, and her husband, Philip, visit a florist on Saturday. Her Social Mobility Commission has quit. Photograph: Reuters

 

British prime minister Theresa May has suffered a fresh blow as the board of the government’s Social Mobility Commission quit in protest at the lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”.

Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who heads the commission, said he had “little hope” the current government was capable of making the changes necessary to deliver a more equal society.

He was joined in walking out by his three fellow commissioners, including the Conservative former cabinet minister Baroness Shephard.

The resignations are a major setback for Mrs May who entered No 10 promising to tackle the “burning injustices” that hold back poorer people.

In his resignation letter, seen by the Observer, Mr Milburn said the preoccupation with Brexit meant the Government “does not have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality”.

He added: “I have little hope of the current Government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain.

“It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.”

A government spokesman said the resignations came after Mr Milburn — whose term as commission chair expired last July — was told that a new chair was to be appointed and that an open application process would be held for the role.

“We are extremely grateful to Alan Milburn for his work as chair of the Social Mobility Commission over the past five years,” the spokesman said.

“This Government is committed to fighting injustice and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them.

“We are making good progress with social mobility — we have increased the national living wage, cut income tax for the lowest paid and doubled free childcare.

“We accept there is more to do and that is why we are focusing our efforts in disadvantaged areas where we can make the biggest difference.”–PA