While the government calls itself progressive, equality of opportunity requires redistribution of wealth
Copyright: House of Lords 2016 / Photography by Roger Harris
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech — although devoid of new ideas — was not quite the half-baked list of bills we were expecting. Instead, it was a reminder that the Conservative party’s attempts to appear to occupy the centre-left continues apace.
Key headings such as ‘Delivering security for working people’ and ‘Increasing life chances for the most disadvantaged’ transport us back to the New Labour era; but looking beyond the headings we find the strengthening of marketization, and the old right wing adage that poverty is down to a lack of ‘aspiration’.
On the one hand, one might argue that we should be happy about the focus on ‘fairness’ and ensuring every child has the best start in life. After all, at least issues of inequality in outcomes are firmly on the government’s agenda.
The problem is that the explanation of the drivers and solutions of this inequality are severely lacking. And then there’s that elephant in the room — spending cuts.
As has been said time and time and time again, spending cuts are hitting the poorest hardest, are most damaging for women and children, and are hindering the ability of local authorities to deliver vital services.
Further up the income scale, children in top private schools are seeing an increase in investment of 20 per cent. Claiming to ensure that every child has the best start in life in this context is like promising to moderate a running race before kicking most of the athletes in the legs.
Equality of opportunity cannot exist without considerable redistribution of income and wealth. We’ve had 20 years of governments tinkering with the education system, while allowing the rich to get richer.
This has failed to undo the fact that a child of a higher professional or managerial father is 20 times more likely to end up in high-status job than a child with a working-class father.
It is ironic to hear the Queen and other people with inherited wealth push an agenda that effectively says that poor children and their teachers just need to work harder, but what’s more disturbing is that we’re in another era of denial about the effects of extreme inequality.
The government may call itself ‘progressive’, but it is still being driven by a regressive belief that inequality is caused by the failings of individuals.
The government may manage to convince some voters with its centrist rhetoric. But because this rhetoric is not reflected by policy, the gains will only be short term.
In the long term, the electorate is likely to become more frustrated and disillusioned as people’s lived experience fail to match up with what they have been promised. They will find their children are still being denied opportunities, that housing is still unaffordable, and that the economy is unbalanced.
They will conclude that politics is pointless and politicians can’t be trusted, and the anger and disillusionment we are seeing now will be passed on to another generation of people who have been failed.
That’s the real cost of spin and poor policy, and it’s nothing to feel proud of.
Faiza Shaheen is director of Class. This post originally appeared on the Class blog.
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