To ensure the PM's words have a bite, the Social Mobility Commission must have real teeth
Robert Halfon writes for PoliticsHome following yesterday's publication of the Education Committee report on the Social Mobility Commission.
When Theresa May stood on the steps of Number 10 and used her first speech as Prime Minister to highlight her commitment to fighting burning social injustices, she inspired many people across our country.
But for one reason or another, whether it be Brexit or the General Election, her mission on social justice has been side-lined.
While it is true that great strides have been made with the national living wage, tax cuts for low earners, progress on tackling domestic violence and millions more people in apprenticeships and jobs, there remain great social injustices in our country.
This was highlighted by the resignation of both Alan Milburn and Gillian Shephard from the Social Mobility Commission.
In their view, addressing social injustice remains the top priority for our country, and that much more needs to be done.
In education for example, just 15% of children from the poorest third of families currently attend a primary school rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
Just 33% of pupils with free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 61% of their better off peers and around 195,000 children use government-funded childcare in settings that are less than good.
12.6million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills and 5.8million have never used the internet.
The list of inequalities goes on. Not just in education, but across the policy spectrum from housing through to health.
This is why the work of the Commission is so important. It’s why Alan Milburn has spoken of a social crisis in our country.
At present, the Commission does significant work highlighting social injustice across the land but the membership was allowed to dwindle and the commissioners felt it had had become unviable.
To make sure that the Prime Minister’s words have a bite, the Commission must have real teeth.
First, it should have responsibility to publish social justice impact assessments on all government policies.
Second, it should have the power to actively advise on social justice issues rather than at just the request of ministers as currently.
And third, the commission must be given more resources and powers.
But we need to do more than this.
There should be a new social justice body in the heart of Downing Street with the levers and powers to coordinate action to drive forward initiatives and implement solutions.
A Cabinet Office minister should have specific responsibility for this dedicated unit with a remit to tackle social injustice and ensure joined up thinking on social justice among government departments.
Alan Milburn argued that the Government ‘‘lacked the head space and the band width to match the rhetoric of healing social division with the reality”.
Gillian Shephard also said: “We could not get answers. There were delays.”
There is a real opportunity here for the Government to prove both wrong.
There needs to be a proper proactive Commission, renamed the Social Justice Commission to ensure it’s not just focusing on those already on the ladder but bringing them to the ladder and making sure we are there if they fall.
A social justice unit at the centre of government ensuring that policies do not impact on social justice and a renewed commitment by the Prime Minister to end the burning social injustices could really begin to heal some of the great divides in our country.
Only then will we give the most disadvantaged in our society the chance to reach and climb the ladder of opportunity and live in a country that delivers for all.
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