Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 6:05 pm, 12th June 2019

Almost three years ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and told us that she would fight a number of burning injustices. After almost three years, let us see how she has done.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. Last year, researchers from Imperial College found that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are two-and-a-half times more likely to die before they reach adulthood than their peers from affluent families. We know that the Government are not addressing these inequalities. The Fabian Society found that the Government now provide more support through benefits and tax reliefs to the richest fifth of non-retired households than to the poorest fifth. The IFS estimated that more than 5 million will be living in poverty by 2022.

The Prime Minister told us that you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. In 2017-18, there were three stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 29 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people, and black people were over three times as likely to be arrested as white people.

The Prime Minister said that if you are a white working class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. The Higher Education Statistics Agency data show that the number of white boys attending university fell by almost 8,000 between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Earlier this year, a National Education Opportunities Network report found that more than half of England’s universities have fewer than 5% of white students in their intakes from a lower socio-economic background. As well as raising tuition fees as part of their coalition with the Liberal Democrats, since 2010, the Government have decided to provide more financial support for the richest 20% of households than the poorest 20%, according to research by the Fabian Society.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are at a state school, you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. Only about 6% of the UK’s school population attend private schools and the families accessing private education are highly concentrated among the affluent, but those who did attend make up 51% of leading journalists, 74% of judges, almost 30% of Members of Parliament and 70% of the current Conservative leadership candidates. Attainment earlier on in life is also unequal. In 2018, the proportion of private school students achieving A*s and As at A-level was 48%, compared with a national average of 26%, while at GCSEs at A or grade seven or above, the respective figures were 63% and 23%.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. In the Cabinet Office, where the Government Equalities Office sits, there is a reported pay gap of 10.7% in favour of men. That is a higher gender pay gap than the public administration sector average, but it is not alone among Government Departments: in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the gap is at 14%, in the Department for Exiting the European Union it is 14.5%, and in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport it is 22.9%. In 2019, the BBC found that fewer than half the UK’s biggest employers have narrowed their gender pay gap.

The Prime Minister told us that if you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help to hand. A Public Accounts Committee report from earlier this year found that children and young people are being turned away from NHS services because their condition is not considered severe enough to warrant access to overstretched services. This is due to the lack of trained mental health professionals. There are only 4.5 psychiatrists per 100,000 young people. Even those with serious mental health problems are being turned away because Britain has one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds in Europe for young people struggling with such problems.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are young, you will find it harder than ever before to own your own home. Wages have not kept pace with property costs. The IFS found that about 40% of young adults cannot afford to buy one of the cheapest homes in their area even with a 10% deposit. Meanwhile, 1.7 million private rented households are paying more than a third of their income in rent, making it harder than ever to save. To make matters worse, an estimated 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost between 2013 and 2018 because of the Government’s failure to address a broken housing system.

These are all things that Mrs May told us that she would address, in her first statement as Prime Minister, yet almost three years later, it is clear to me that she has failed to achieve her mission. Instead she has supported the powerful, prioritised the wealthy and entrenched the advantages of the fortunate few. I hope that the next Prime Minister will do more than just talk about injustices and actually match policy to rhetoric.