In-depth assessment delivers the verdict on the Government�۪s promise of a more equal society

An independent and detailed expert analysis of a decade of reforms (published 25 February) takes up the challenge made by Peter Mandelson in 1997 to “judge us after ten years of success in office. For one of the fruits of that success will be that Britain has become a more equal society.����”Commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the study, by a team led by LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, shows sharp contrasts between different policy areas. Notable success stories include reductions in child and pensioner poverty, improved education outcomes for the poorest children and schools, and narrowing economic and other divides between deprived and other areas.But health inequalities continued to widen, gaps in incomes between the very top and very bottom grew, and poverty increased for working-age people without children.����In several policy areas there was a marked contrast between the first half of the New Labour period and the second half, when progress has slowed or even stalled.John Hills, one of the leaders of study, said, “Whether Britain has moved towards becoming a ‘more equal society’ depends on what you look at, and when. Where clear initiatives were taken, results followed. But as the growth of living standards slowed, even well before the recession, and public finances tightened, momentum seems to have been lost in several key areas.”Kitty Stewart added, “The government can take heart from achievements such as the reduction in child poverty up to 2004.����Recent data show that by then, child well-being in the UK had begun to move up the European league table from its dismal showing at the start of the decade that formed the basis of UNICEF’s damning 2007 report. But even with improved figures, Britain was still left with one of the highest rates of child poverty out of the 15 original EU members, and the latest figures show it had increased again by 2006/7.”����The study concludes that the decade from 1997 was favourable to an egalitarian agenda in several ways: the economy grew continuously; the government had large majorities and aspired to create more equality; and public attitudes surveys suggested pent-up demand for more public expenditure. But that environment now looks very uncertain, not just in the near future, but also in the longer term.����Fiscal pressures from an ageing society could further constrain resources available for redistribution, and public attitudes towards the benefit system have hardened while support for redistribution has declined.Hills added, “The 1980s and 1990s showed that hoping that rapid growth in living standards at the top would ‘trickle down’ to those at the bottom did not work.����The period since 1997 has shown that gains are possible through determined interventions, but they require intensive and continuous effort to be sustained.”JRF Chief Executive Julia Unwin added, “We know the potential impact the deepening recession will have on those already living in poverty. This book provides an important, timely and comprehensive assessment of where we are and what remains to be done.”
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