First sustained increase of poverty in dependents for 20 years; Social Mobility Commission quits: ‘No chance of progress’
THERESA MAY saw her claims for a Tory “fairer Britain” take a second humiliating blow in two days yesterday as it emerged the nation is seeing its first sustained increases in child and pensioner poverty in 20 years.
There are now 14 million people living in poverty, including 4m children and 1.9m pensioners, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found.
In the last four years alone, up to 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners have been pushed into poverty — and little progress is being made in reducing its prevalence among working-age adults.
The poorest households are being hit with rising housing costs, higher food and energy bills, debts and being unable to build up a pension, the charity said.
Foundation head Campbell Robb said: “These worrying figures suggest that we are at a turning point in our fight against poverty.
“Political choices, wage stagnation and economic uncertainty mean that hundreds of thousands more people are now struggling to make ends meet. This is a very real warning sign that our hard-fought progress is in peril.
The charity urged the Tories to end a four-year freeze on working-age benefits and tax credits and to invest in large-scale construction of more genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy.
The dire news comes after the entire board of the cross-party Social Mobility Commission quit in protest, with chairman Alan Milburn warning there is no chance of the current government making progress in fighting poverty and inequality.
In her first address as PM in 2016 Ms May pledged to fight “burning injustices” and create a “fairer Britain.”
But ex-Labour minister Mr Milburn said he was quitting after months of “indecision, dysfunctionality and lack of leadership” from Ms May’s party.
He 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.
“The Prime Minister has said a lot about her desire to improve social mobility. Talking the talk is all very well, but you also need to walk the walk. I see precisely no chance of making progress.”
All three other commissioners on the panel, including former Conservative education secretary Gillian Shephard, also resigned.
The walkout came days after the board delivered a report on the grim state of social mobility in Britain, which revealed a postcode lottery with wealthier regions offering the worst prospects for poor children.
Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said: “Theresa May has rewarded the rich whilst holding everyone else back. It is no surprise the whole Social Mobility Commission has resigned in frustration.
“Under the Tories, how well people do in life is still based on class background rather than on talent or effort.”
Founder and chairman of social mobility charity the Sutton Trust Sir Peter Lampl said of Mr Milburn’s resignation: “The Commission under his leadership has done much to highlight the extent of the problem.
“It is vital that the Prime Minister renews the commitment she gave in her first statement in Downing Street to ensure that life chances are not determined by social background.”