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Despite a recent Social Mobility Commission report and an IFS review under way, the inequality problem isn’t really being tackled


Natalie Perera

It’s been almost three years since the Prime Minister stood on the doorstep of No 10 and vowed to ‘fight against the burning injustice’ facing society. And it’s been almost a year and a half since the then chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Alan Milburn, and his team quit over what they considered a lack of progress from the Government.

Since then, the Government has appointed new Social Mobility Commissioners along with a new chair, Dame Martina Milburn, and last month the newly formed commission published its ‘state of the nation’ report.

The report hammered home some of the worrying early years trends that have been emerging in recent years: the inequality gap at age five (which EPI estimates to be equivalent to just over four months); the closure of hundreds of Children’s Centres; and the low pay and status of the early years workforce. The commission’s workforce findings chimed with EPI’s most recent report on the early years workforce, which found that some childcare workers are paid less than those in the retail sector, even when they are qualified to a similar level.

While the commission, in theory, has the ear of No 10, there is a real risk that its findings and recommendations will continue to be drowned out by the ongoing Brexit negotiations and speculation over the Prime Minister’s future. The commission’s voice on its own may not be loud enough to be heard.

One opportunity that might help to amplify the noise around social mobility and cause the Government to listen more carefully is the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Deaton Reviewof inequality. The review aims to understand inequality in its widest sense, including income, health, participation and opportunity. With the backing of heavy-weight organisations like the IFS and the Nuffield Foundation, this review has the potential to look at how different types of inequalities are related and how policies can be reformed to address the complexities of a range of compounding factors.

The only problem is that, as is often the case with ambitious research projects that aim to address a range of complex and entrenched issues, the review is expected to take five years to complete. But the Government cannot afford to wait that long to start implementing change. By then, a whole generation of children will have been born and passed through an early years system that already needs desperate attention.

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