Theresa May facing fresh political pressure after mass walkout over social policy

Alan Milburn claims the British government "does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth" to deal with social division

Theresa May facing fresh political pressure after mass walkout over social policy

Theresa May. Picture by: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May has suffered a damaging new blow after her government's social mobility chairman & members of his team quit.

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

In his resignation letter, Mr Milburn claims dealing with Brexit means 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."

The resignations come with Prime Minister May already under enormous political pressure, as she faces crunch Brexit talks in the coming days and questions over the future of her most senior minister, Damian Green.

In his attack on Mrs May, Mr Milburn says: "The worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you're going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it. It's almost better never to say that you'll do anything about it.

"It's disappointing at least that the Government hasn't got its shoulder to the wheel in the way it should to deal with these structural issues that lead to social division and political alienation in the country.

Mr Milburn also accuses ministers of abandoning voters who backed Brexit and doing nothing to remove the grievances that led to the referendum vote.

"More to do"

In a statement, the British government said it had already informed Mr Milburn "we planned to appoint a new chair", adding that it is "committed to fighting injustice".

It said: "We accept there is more to do and that is why we are focusing our efforts in disadvantaged areas where we can make the biggest difference."

The Social Mobility Commission's annual report, published on Tuesday, found that Britain has 65 "cold spot" areas where social mobility is constrained, of which 60 voted to leave the EU.

At the current rate, it would take 15 years to narrow the ability gap between rich and poor at the age of five, 20 years for wages to return to the same level in real terms as they were before the crash, 80 years to close the gap in higher education participation rates.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Milburn declares: "There has been indecision, dysfunctionality and a lack of leadership."

And he compares the commission's attempts to tackle the problem in the face of government inaction to "pushing water uphill".

Other commissioners who have resigned include Paul Gregg, professor of economic and social policy at the Bath University, and David Johnston, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation.

The mass resignation is hugely embarrassing for Theresa May, who began her premiership with a speech on the steps of Downing Street pledging to tackle the "burning injustices" that hold back the poor and non-white people.

She declared "the mission of the government I lead" would be to "make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us".