By Philippa Stroud
Last night I fell asleep with all the pundits saying we would be remaining in the EU. I woke up to the announcement we are leaving. How detached can the Westminster village be?
Then, before 9am this morning, I listened to the Prime Minister announce he would resign before the Conservative Party conference in October.
When I look back on my time in Government, for 5 ½ of Cameron’s 6 years, I reflect that one of Cameron’s greatest achievements was his appointment of reforming Secretaries of State that allowed his government to bring about genuine reform.
He did this with Michael Gove and the education system, and then latterly with prison reform. Michael was genuinely focused on raising the education standards of disadvantaged children and on turning prisons into academies where every prisoner has the opportunity to learn and be rehabilitated.
Cameron did this too with Iain Duncan Smith and welfare reform. Iain lived every day focused on ensuring that work would always pay and that those without skills were supported to be upskilled and move into work. And Cameron also did this with Boris Johnson as he supported his mayoralty of London for 8 years.
It is interesting, though, that it was his most reforming Secretaries of State – the agendas for which Cameron will be remembered – who created the leadership and back bone of the Leave campaign. It was by swimming against the tide of the political elite that these political figures learned to lead an agenda of reform and change. There was also something in their reforming agenda that led them to realise they needed greater autonomy and perhaps even greater accountability.
They knew that to be able to deliver on what the British people really wanted and needed they had to restore power to the UK Parliament. It is also interesting that many of those who voted for Leave are those who are affected most keenly by the challenges in schools and competition for low skilled jobs. We need to hear this as a nation.
The Centre for Social Justice has not written about our relationship with the EU but we have written extensively about the challenges faced by those on low incomes and the daily concerns of many of the British people. They tell us they are tired of rhetoric without substance – tired of speeches without real change.
It is for these reasons that the CSJ has launched a new programme of work. We have identified key areas where the Government has a good narrative but no real strategy. Particularly in policy areas that affect those on low or no wages.
This is a time to revisit the robustness of our approach to social policy. So much of what gets decided in Government is only viewed through a short term economic lens. There is an opportunity ahead of us to understand that good social policy leads to good economic policy. It is an opportunity to create a long term strategy to help the most vulnerable in Britain. This is the possibility that lies ahead of us.
It is why today we are committed to our new forward programme of work. This will include strategies on:
An all-out assault on poverty – not just the narrative but a clear strategy outlining what it will really take to reduce poverty in Britain;
Halving the disability employment gap – not just the narrative but a clear strategy for what employers and potential employees need to do to significantly increase employment among the disabled;
- Driving up productivity. With the introduction of the National Living Wage (and yesterday’s Brexit vote), how do we make entry-level jobs worth £9 per hour for an employer – this has to be about upskilling those taking their first steps into the jobs market.
The CSJ has retained a stalwartly neutral position on the issue of the EU referendum. But we have consistently said that we are not neutral of the issue of poverty. We always knew that both Leave and Remain would offer up different challenges and different opportunities whichever way the vote went.
Sitting here today it is obviously going to be bumpy in the short term but in the long term we also know that there are opportunities for our most disadvantaged communities. We need to make sure that these are seized.