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Primer Minister Article on Inequality

Saturday, January 30th 2010 - 14:36 UTC
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PM Gordon Brown PM Gordon Brown

As Britain comes out of recession, a new age of aspiration is within reach - but it will not come about by chance. Only if we make the right choices in economic and social policy can we lift the sights and shape the life chances of millions of people in our country.

Strategic and intelligent interventions by government are vital if we are to secure a jobs-rich recovery with an expanded - not squeezed - middle class.

A fortnight ago I spoke about my desire to expand dramatically the opportunities for young people of all backgrounds.

This is no idle ambition. In the 1950s and 1960s economic growth and occupational change, driven by the creation of the post-war welfare state, led to a surge in upward mobility.

Yet even then, in my own childhood, I saw how close friends of mine who might have gone to college or taken an apprenticeship were denied their chance. This frustration - this anger - that opportunities were not there for them drives my passion for a new wave of social mobility.

Education is at the heart of this mission. Evidence suggests that if we maintain effective investment and reform in our schools and children’s centres, the proportion of low-income children achieving five good GCSEs could rise by around half between now and 2020 - and the proportion getting a-level equivalent qualifications at 19 will almost double over the same period. This will mean millions more of our young people are able to secure skilled and middle income jobs for the first time.

We know that within a decade nine out of ten new jobs will need specific skills.

Even during the depths of the recession we have been investing heavily to secure these skilled jobs of the future - in sectors such as low carbon, digital, biotech, and advanced manufacturing.

And we must equip our future workforce to seize them. So as we secure the recovery it is the duty of government to make the right choices in social policy to ensure that the new growth that we are seeing is a tide that lifts everyone, equally.

Today’s sobering report from the National Equality Panel, chaired by Professor John Hills, emphasizes this challenge. It shows how the scarring effects of the rapid rise in inequality in the 1980s are still with us today, feeding generational disadvantage for the children of those who lost their jobs and livelihoods in that decade - just it secured the advantages and increased wealth of those who did well.

The report illustrates starkly that despite a leveling off of inequality in the last decade we still have much further to go. But it also shows the opportunity that is within our grasp, for it makes clear that - for good or ill - choices made by government do make a difference.

For example, since 1997 absolute child poverty has halved, while the very poorest families are on average £5,000 a year better off; schools in the most deprived areas have seen the fastest improvement; and the gap between pupils on free school meals and the rest has narrowed.

Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies also points out that without government action income inequality would have grown substantially.

That is why we will continue with the programs and investments that unlock aspiration and make a reality of genuine equality of opportunity for all. Our guarantee to parents is that our education and training policies will provide a ladder of opportunity for their children, from their very earliest years until they reach adulthood.

We are driving upward mobility with a children’s centre in every community; a guarantee that every child will have mastered the 3Rs by the end of primary school, with catch up tuition for those who need it; a personal tutor of studies for all secondary school pupils; and raising the education and training leaving age to 18, with Education Maintenance Allowances to support staying on.

And because we believe in a genuine property owning democracy - one in which we all share in the country’s wealth, not just a few - we will protect the Child Trust Fund, the world’s first universal asset savings scheme for young people. This means that by the end of this decade every single 18 year old will have some savings as a platform from which to embark on adult life.

Those who oppose this action threaten not just to blunt the aspirations of the hard working majority of this country - but to put at risk our nation’s economic future.

Today John Hills has set out the challenge before us. Our response is not to retreat but to push forward: to seize the unique opportunities in the global economy to forge a stronger, fairer and more inclusive Britain.

Categories: Politics, International.

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