Gap between UK rich and poor widening

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.

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

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The commission’s findings come as a study released today by Edinburgh University reveals school leavers from poorer families in Scotland are significantly more likely to be unemployed regardless of which subjects they have studied.

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

The report covered areas such as education, employment and housing.

It found at current rates of progress it will take about 15 years before all children are school-ready by age five and 40 years before the attainment gap between rich and poor at that age is closed.

In higher education, it will take about 80 years before the participation gap between students from rich and poor areas closes.

It also stated there is “currently no prospect of the [Westminster] government achieving its ambition of Britain becoming a high-skilled, high-paying economy”.

It highlighted the income and wealth divide which is said has become “more acute” – between 1997 and 2017 the bottom fifth of households saw incomes increase by just over £10 a week compared with £300 for the top fifth.

Former Labour minister Mr Milburn said the UK had 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 the Prime Minister establish a single cross-government plan to deliver the social mobility agenda, with ten-year targets to halt the short-term nature of many interventions.

It recommended a social mobility test for new public policies and every Budget should identify how taxpayers’ money is redistributed to address geographical, wealth and generational divides.

Professor Cristina Iannelli, of Edinburgh University, said: “In contrast to official government statistics showing more than 90 per cent of school leavers are in education or employment, the study found about 30 per cent of S4 leavers and 9 per cent of S5/S6 leavers were unemployed or inactive a few years after leaving school.”