Can Britain become fairer?

Theresa May promised her party would stand up for the weak

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How fair is Britain?

By Diane Cooke

Britain is a country increasingly at ease with its diversity, proud of its heritage of ‘fair play’, and supportive of the ideals of equality and human rights. So says the Equality and Human Rights Commision's 'How Fair is Britain?' report published last year.

In simple terms, Britain has become a fairer place because: Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi pupils have begun to catch up with the average performance at GCSE. • The gender pay gap has narrowed considerably since the Equal Pay Act 1970 came into force in 1975. • The criminal justice system now recognises different forms of hate crime and has begun to provide more appropriate support to people who experience it.

However, particular groups, including gypsies and travellers and some types of migrants, are still likely to encounter negative attitudes. Although mainstream attitudes towards other groups may have improved, many people experience instances of prejudice. And some groups of people are on average much more likely than others to fare badly in education, in work, and in public life. In other words, there is a gap between what we think society should be, and what it actually is; between ideal and reality, between our aspirations and our attainments.

To make matters worse, the current economic and social crises threaten to widen some equality gaps that might have closed in better times. And finally, without corrective action longer term trends, such as technological and demographic changes are likely to entrench new forms of inequality.

Last October, Theresa May promised a fairer Britain. She said the Conservatives would use the power of government to "restore fairness" in Britain and spread prosperity more widely.

The prime minister told the party's conference the UK must change after the "quiet revolution" of the Brexit vote, urging people to "seize the day".

Labour were now seen as the "nasty party" and only the Tories would "stand up for the weak... up to the powerful".

The state should be a "force for good" to help working people, she argued.

Except that hasn't happened and this week the team charged with making Britain fairer walked out en masse because the task was impossible to achieve.

Alan Milburn, a former Labour cabinet minister and close ally of Tony Blair, resigned as chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, along with his Conservative deputy, former cabinet minister Gillian Shephard.

In his resignation letter, he claimed dealing with Brexit meant the British government "does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality".

He adds: "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."

In the Labour party's manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn vowed to address the deep division between the haves and have nots. He said that the party would work to lift millions out of poverty by imposing a minimum wage of £10 per hour by 2020.

He added that the party would scrap university tuition fees and guarantee the triple lock to protect pensions.

“Whatever your age or situation, people are under pressure, struggling to make ends meet. Our manifesto is for you," he said.

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