As Brexit dominates, its causes are being forgotten

The perennial and tragic irony is that the very conditions which led to Brexit are being eclipsed by the government's total preoccupation with it.

At the beginning of the month, the government suffered a double blow. The entire board of the Social Mobility Commission resigned, citing lack of progress towards a fairer’ Britain. The very next day, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that 14 million people in the UK – nearly a quarter of the population of one of the richest countries on earth – live in poverty. Attention has since returned to Brexit. But that is the perennial and tragic irony – the very conditions which led to Brexit are being ignored because the government is consumed by it. Clearly we cannot ignore the social and economic crisis in this country any longer.

The Prime Minister seemed to recognise the need for urgent action last year when she announced from the steps of Downing Street her intention to tackle burning injustice”. But look a bit closer at her language on that day, and you may spot the seeds of failure. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you,” she said. The emphasis was on your talents” – implying that those who do not have whatever the passing whims of the modern economy deems talent’ can go whistle”, to adopt a phrase.

She then described her predecessor’s legacy as not about the economy but about social justice” – as if these two things have nothing to do with each other. At the New Economics Foundation we know from our work in over 100 towns and cities that economic and social problems are inextricably linked.

I write more about government failure to tackle inequality, and why we need to value local distinctiveness, on Open Democracy UK.

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