Social Mobility Commission resignations over ‘misplaced priorities’

Written by Carolyn Scott on 4 December 2017 in News

Alan Milburn attacks priorities of UK Government in strongly-worded resignation letter

Alan Milburn - credit Alan Milburn

The UK Government’s Social Mobility Tsar, Alan Milburn, has resigned stating that the government’s preoccupation with Brexit means it does not have the “necessary bandwidth” to also work towards a “fairer Britain”. 

Milburn, a former Labour minister, was joined in his resignation by three other board members of the government’s Social Mobility Commission, former Conservative minister Gillian Sheppard, academic Paul Gregg and David Johnston, the chief executive of the charity the Social Mobility Foundation.

Milburn’s resignation letter pointed to the dangers of growing inequality: “The growing sense that we have become an us and them society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation.”

He added: "I have little hope of the current government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain. It seems unable to commit to the future of the Commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation."

The resignations will come as a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May who, writing in The Telegraph earlier this year, said she would work to tackle the “burning injustices that undermine the solidarity of our society”.

In contrast, Milburn said: “At a time when more and more people are feeling that Britain is becoming more unfair rather than less, social mobility matters more than ever.”

John Dickie, Director of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, told Holyrood that Milburn’s resignation was “disappointing” and added that it’s “totally dispiriting that it seems he is doing so because he has lost confidence in the UK government's willingness to prioritise making society fairer”.

Dickie said that the UK Government has failed to deliver on past promises with regard to tackling inequality and child poverty: “The bottom line is the UK Government lacks a social reform programme, and without action to tackle poverty children’s life chances will continue to be undermined. A promised green paper on social justice has failed to materialise, and the flagship UK anti-poverty policy – universal credit – is actually now increasing child poverty.”

Though Dickie did point to progress being made in Scotland, with the Scottish Government recently setting up its own Poverty and Inequality Commission and the Scottish Parliament unanimously passing the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, he said “with key economic, tax and benefit levers remaining at Westminster it’s vital that UK Ministers also prioritise our children’s life chances”.

In closing his resignation letter Milburn stated that, buoyed by the support of local councillors and politicians, he will be creating his own fully independent Social Mobility Institute “to take forward the practical work that is needed to make a reality of my belief in a fairer, more open, more mobile society in Britain”.

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