It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill. To give everyone the opportunity to succeed, we need to tackle the injustices that hold people back. Poverty and inequality hold far too many people back in my constituency and are the No. 1 issue that they face. Our current system exposes the systematic imbalances and inequalities across society and the country. It dictates the life chances of people, often based purely on their postcode or their parents’ experiences, and it entrenches a sense that, regardless of someone’s aspiration and through no fault of their own, their talents can be limited. Ultimately, if someone’s destiny in life is predetermined, if their ambition and hard work do not pay off and if the town that they call home is not providing them with the first rung on the ladder to success, surely they will conclude that this is not a country, society or economy working for them. Far too many people in Leigh are now being brought up believing exactly that.
I am hugely privileged to represent such a proud town and constituency. The resilience that the people demonstrate astounds me, but there is only so much that people can take. What is so heartbreaking is that Leigh was once the heart of the industrial revolution and the soul of the country. The mills provided not only employment, but community. Our economy and industry were at the foundation of our society and represented the glue that held the fabric of our society together. The success of our towns was everyone’s success. The closure of our mills, factories, pits and rail connectivity was therefore felt not just economically but socially. As the promise of a community that worked for everybody died, the glue that once held our community closely together began to dissolve.
Thatcher’s Britain sowed the seeds of social fragmentation, but it was not until the austerity of the Tory-Lib Dem Government that the fertile ground was provided for the issues that we face today. Austerity pitted community against community and town against town, all scrapping for a drip of investment while the Government mercilessly cut the funding and investment tap. Although Leigh is not unique in facing these challenges, last year the statistics confirmed what many of us locally already knew: as a constituency, we are at a particular disadvantage. Thanks to the House of Commons Library, we know that Leigh ranks in the lowest 7% of English constituencies for social mobility. We in Leigh also know that this is not because of any lack of ambition, determination or effort, but because our proud town has been given a sore deal. We have been let down.
We are without not only the core industrial or economic base, but the means to rebuild our economy, reskill our workforce or renew our community. Because of underinvestment by the Government, their austerity agenda and their inability to invest in place-based schemes that provide communities with the resources to build within their areas, the people of Leigh are left believing that their proud hometown will no longer provide the opportunities that they deserve.
As we have seen, however, tackling social mobility alone is no longer going to cut it. We know that children’s life chances are determined at birth. Children from low-income families are more likely to fall behind in education, have poorer health and leave school with few or no qualifications. Without tackling the issue of poverty, we will never be able to provide opportunity for all. Social justice provides not only the means, but the opportunity. This is not about a select number of children being given a chance, but about access and justice for all. Social justice and social mobility must go hand in hand.
In this time of incredible division for our country, only a radical plan to reshape our country will heal those divisions and bring people back together. We must build Britain inclusively—sharing prosperity and opportunity across the country, and utilising the incredible assets of our post-industrial northern towns as the natural home for the economics of the future to flourish in. We know there are no quick, simple answers and that is why the Opposition have the detailed, costed plans to tackle our social mobility crisis by rebuilding Britain and restoring faith in a society that should be working for every town across the country.