Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 6:15 pm, 12th June 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jo Platt.

This Government have talked up social mobility, but their record is woeful. Last month, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty compared Tory austerity policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. He described cuts as leading to the

“systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”,

with

“punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies causing what he called a

“social calamity and an economic disaster”.

This is truly a damning indictment, and it joins many international bodies in slamming the Government for their treatment of society’s most oppressed and marginalised. A recent Human Rights Watch report said that “cruel and harmful” Government policies are responsible for increasing the number of children going without adequate food.

We are used to hearing about such things happening in poor and exploited countries, but not in the fifth richest country on earth. However, this is the consequence of nine years of Tory austerity. It is what happens when we slash social security spending for some our most vulnerable, public services are starved of much-needed funding and wages are frozen. Many Members from across the House, or perhaps just on the Opposition side of the House, come across many such instances in their constituency surgeries—from families crammed into unsuitable, overcrowded and poor housing to disabled people being denied social security. We see it in food banks handing out record numbers of food parcels—1.6 million last year, with more than 500,000 for children. That is shameful.

At the same time as the assault on the living standards of the poorest, the Government have handed out over £110 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest. The 1,000 richest individuals in this country now hold record wealth: £771 billion in total, up nearly £50 billion in the last year alone. This is a shameful record, and it is the Government’s legacy—record numbers of billionaires alongside record numbers of food banks.

The hardest hit are disabled people, members of the black and Asian community, and women. Let there be no doubt but that these stark inequalities shape life chances. Young people who are born black and working class in my constituency will face struggles that are very different from those of the wealthiest. They may be living in poor housing: it might be overcrowded, and the conditions will be poor. Their parents are likely to be working multiple and low-paid jobs. Their school will be struggling with funding, and their teachers will be overworked. Those who are poor growing up in my constituency know that going to college or university is a route for them to secure a better future, but what has happened? The Government have cut the education maintenance allowance and trebled tuition fees. They face barriers that some of the wealthiest do not face. That is the reality for so many of our young people.

This is what happens when the country is run in the interests of the most wealthy, not to benefit the many. We can fund our public services, build good social housing, build a social security system, and create secure and well-paid jobs. We can tackle inequality. Labour believes that the best way to give everyone a fair chance to succeed is to tackle the underlying structures of inequality. That is how we achieve real social justice, and that is how we achieve equality for all.