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May under fire for failing to appoint social mobility chair

Theresa May has come under fire from opposition MPs for failing to appoint a new social mobility tsar, four months after the last adviser quit.

Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs have called on the prime minister to fill the chairman’s role at the social mobility and child poverty commission, which has been empty since Alan Milburn stood down in December.

All four members of the social commission resigned last year, following the publication of a damning report, which warned the UK in ‘the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division’.

In his resignation letter to the prime minster, Mr Milburn said the government is ‘understandably focused on Brexit and does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality’.

The report itself named Weymouth, Portland and Allerdale as some of the worst performing areas, and claimed Scarborough, Hastings, Derby and Nottingham are becoming ‘entrenched social mobility coldspots’.

Speaking to the Independent over the Easter weekend, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesman, Layla Moran, said: ‘Alan Milburn was a former Labour minister appointed by a Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister.

‘This represented a true cross-party effort to make our society more fair. This all seems long ago as the Conservatives unpick much of the good work done throughout the coalition government.

‘May must refill this post so that we can start to deal with problems in our society including social mobility and intergenerational fairness.’

The Labour MP David Lammy commented on Twitter: ‘Four months on and still no new head of the social mobility and child poverty commission. So much for tackling burning injustices. This frankly says everything about how seriously this government takes social mobility – lots of rhetoric, no action.’

Last month, the education select committee called for the commission to be given more powers to enable it to publish social justice impact assessments on Whitehall policies and to proactively advise ministers on social justice issues.

Committee chair Robert Halfon warned without stronger powers, the commission will do ‘little to tackle social injustices and give the most vulnerable in society the chance they deserve to climb the ladder of opportunity’.

‘We need a commission which has the teeth to undertake objective assessments of the implications for social justice of government policies and is properly equipped to hold Ministers’ feet to the fire on social mobility,’ added Mr Halfon.

A spokesman for the government told New Start the recruitment process for the new commission chair is still ongoing.

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