I remember years ago meeting a councillor from one of the leafier bits of Sheffield.
We compared notes on our patches, including advice surgeries and casework. Most of mine was housing or planning; she agreed about the planning, but said she had hardly any housing casework. It turned out that was because she had hardly any council housing in the ward.
Nowhere’s like that in Islington. Part of the charm, and the challenge, of our community is that all kinds of people live side by side. In my row of council and ex-council flats, there are everyone from young professionals flat-sharing to respectable pensioners, to large families making do on small incomes. We share a postcode but our life chances are all very different. And Labour’s grand plans to tackle social exclusion and inequality, and improve mobility and opportunity, have failed.
As Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos, reported recently, “Britain today is a society of persistent inequality. The life chances of children remain heavily dependent on the circumstances of their birth. Children born to poorer families have less favourable outcomes across every sphere of life.”
He was writing in his role as independent Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Social Mobility Commission. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg set up the Commission because as a party we care passionately about social mobility. Many Liberal Democrat supporters from a social democrat background have joined us because they feel angry and betrayed by Labour’s failure to deliver on what could have been a common agenda.
Instead, over the last five years, many of the key indicators of social exclusion have got worse, not better, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Meanwhile, the extra money Labour has put into schools has largely benefitted children from better-off backgrounds. And the poorest families have been excluded from university because of tuition fees. Liberal Democrats are calling for a pupil premium, as extra money to support the poorest pupils, to try and redress the balance.
I’ve blogged before about child poverty. Islington-based charity the Child Poverty Action Group is running the 2 Skint 4 School campaign to highlight how poverty and bad education are linked in a vicious circle.
The waste of opportunity – for individuals and our country – is a tragedy; investing in the best start for young people is the right thing to do morally, socially and economically. The cost of crime, unemployment and poor health from doing nothing, is far greater than the cost of doing the right thing now.