The entire board of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission has quit in protest at the lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”, dealing a fresh blow for Theresa May.
Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who heads the commission, said he had “little hope” the current Government was capable of making the changes necessary to deliver a more equal society.
He was joined in walking out by his three fellow commissioners, including the Conservative former cabinet minister Baroness Shephard, the Press Association reported.
The resignations are a major setback for May who entered No 10 promising to tackle the “burning injustices” that hold back poorer people.
However a Government spokesman said the departures came after Milburn – whose term as commission chair expired last July – was told that a new chair was to be appointed and that an open application process would be held for the role.
In his resignation letter, Milburn said the preoccupation with Brexit meant the Government “does not have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality”.
He added: “I have little hope of the current Government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain.
“It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.”
The resignations come just days after the commission warned that unless the economic, social and local divisions laid bare by the Brexit vote were addressed there would be a rise in far right or hard left extremism.
In its report the commission said London and its commuter belt resembled a “different country” to coastal, rural and former industrial areas where young people faced lower pay, fewer top jobs and commuting times nearly four times those in cities.
Milburn told The Observer: “The worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it. It’s almost better never to say you’ll do anything about it.
“It’s disappointing at least that the Government hasn’t got its shoulder to the wheel in the way it should to deal with these structural issues that lead to social division and political alienation in the country.
“In America for 30 years real average earnings have remained flat. Now here the Chancellor is predicting that will last for 20 years.
“That has a consequence for people, but a political consequence as well. It means more anger, more resentment and creates a breeding ground for populism.”
For Labour, shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said the resignations came as “no surprise”.
“As inequality has grown under the Tories, social mobility has totally stalled. Theresa May has rewarded the rich whilst holding everyone else back,” he said.
“It is no surprise the whole Social Mobility Commission has resigned in frustration. Under the Tories, how well people do in life is still based on class background rather than on talent or effort.”
A Government spokesman said it is “committed to fighting injustice and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them”.
“We are making good progress with social mobility – we have increased the national living wage, cut income tax for the lowest paid and doubled free childcare,” the spokesman said.
“We accept there is more to do and that is why we are focusing our efforts in disadvantaged areas where we can make the biggest difference.”