Left-behind Britain needs help to avoid rise of extreme politics, Milburn says

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Economic, social and local divisions laid bare by the Brexit vote must be tackled or there will be a rise in far right or hard left extremism, the Government’s social mobility tsar has warned.

Alan Milburn said unless the “hopelessness and anger” of “left behind” communities highlighted in a new Social Mobility Commission report are addressed by mainstream politics, people will move to the “margins”.

The study, which ranked all 324 English local authorities’ performance on social mobility, showed that of the 65 worst performing areas all but five voted to Leave the European Union, while the majority of the 65 best performing “hotspots” voted to Remain.

Top 10 best areas for social mobility in England, 2017
(PA Graphics)

But Brexit has given the Government “little headspace to inject the necessary energy and focus” to back up rhetoric on helping left-behind communities, and ministers must now act to spread education, employment and housing opportunities across the country, Mr Milburn said.

The report said London and its commuter belt resembles a “different country” to coastal, rural and former industrial areas where young people face lower rates of pay, fewer top jobs and commuting times nearly four times longer than those in cities.

Mr Milburn called on the Government to come up with a 10 year plan to target an increasing proportion of public spending and resources into parts of the country that have been most left behind.

Top 10 worst areas for social mobility in England, 2017
(PA Graphics)

At a Westminster press conference, he said: “The reason I say that is not purely out of economic or even social concerns but for political reasons too.

“These are volatile and uncertain times. Right now Britain seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division.

“The growing sense that we have become an us and them society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation.

“Our politics are becoming polarised just as our country is. We see that on this side of the Atlantic and we see it in the US.

“It is easy to rail against what is happening but the analysis in this report explains why there is such a sense of political alienation and social resentment in so many parts of our country.

“Whole tracts of our economy feel left behind, because they are. Whole communities feel that the benefits of globalisation have passed them by, because they have.

“Whole sections of society feel they are not getting a fair chance to succeed, because they are not. And with it a heady brew of hopelessness mixed with anger.

“Unless mainstream politics can answer the problem of economic, social and geographical division the answer will come, as we are already seeing in parts of Europe, from the extremism of either the hard left or the far right.”

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