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18 December 1998updated 21 Jul 2021 10:01am

A guide to all the “burning injustices” Theresa May failed to solve

By Anoosh Chakelian

Ah, July 2016. The smell of referendum in the air, like lightning after a storm. David Cameron’s valedictory humming still ringing in our ears.

And Theresa May. That steady hand on the tiller (who did some really shitty stuff on immigration at the Home Office but shh), clearing the rubble of the Bullingdon Club’s last hoorah, ferrying the empty Bollinger jeroboams to the bottle bank, and guiding us into an era of sensible, eat-your-greens Conservatism.

Standing at the lectern outside No 10, inches from the doorstep of power, May delivered a speech promising to tackle society’s inequalities, and to prioritise struggling families.

These “burning injustices” and the “just about managing” were her rallying cry – a blueprint for compassionate conservatism, more concerned with poorer voters than previous administrations.

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours,” she said.

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So now she’s soon to be back outside No 10, for outgoing reasons, let’s look at how far she managed to fight each of those “burning injustices”…

“If you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.”

England’s life expectancy gap between rich and poor areas has widened. The gap widened for women between 2012-14 and 2015-17 by half a year, and for men by four months in the same period, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures. Now men in the most deprived areas can expect to die 9.4 years earlier than their richest counterparts, and women 7.4 years earlier.

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“If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.”

More than half of those in young offender institutions in England and Wales belong to a black or minority ethnic background – the highest proportion on record, according to the prisons watchdog in January.

This means the situation has actually worsened since the Lammy Review put the figure at 41 per cent in 2017. Treatment of BAME groups in the criminal justice system has got “considerably worse”, the MP David Lammy told the Justice Select Committee in March.

“If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”

More than half of England’s universities have fewer than 5 per cent poor white students in their intakes, according to National Education Opportunities Network analysis in 2019. As a proportion of the population, that means they’re less likely to go to university than BAME teenagers. The number of white university applicants continues to fall.

The progression rates for white young people on free school meals into higher education were 17.6 per cent for girls and 12.2 per cent for boys in 2016/17.

“If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”

Two-fifths (39 per cent) of people in the UK’s elite group of jobs (including politics, the media and public service) as a whole were privately educated – more than five times as many as the population at large, according to the Sutton Trust’s latest report in June 2019. That includes 65 per cent of senior judges who were privately educated, 59 per cent of civil service permanent secretaries, and 57 per cent of House of Lords members, compared with the 7 per cent of the overall population who are privately educated.

“If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.”

The UK’s gender pay gap has hardly changed in the year since the government imposed new rules on companies to disclose their gender pay gaps. The median pay gap this year was 11.9 per cent, compared to 11.8 per cent last year. All sectors pay men more and in most the gap has grown.

“If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”

Last year the government pledged around £2bn of its extra £20bn NHS “70th birthday present” for mental health services, over the next five years.

But 35 per cent more mental health patients had to be sent hundreds of miles from home for hospital treatment than last year, due to a lack of beds, according to NHS figures. Mental health spending is spread wildly unevenly across England, with some areas spending nearly double per person than others.

Public funding for adult social care declined in real terms by 13 per cent from 2009/10-2015/16, putting further pressure on NHS mental health services.

Children’s services are also under pressure. Child mental health unit referrals have risen by nearly 50 per cent in three years.

The problem has been growing since May became Prime Minister, with 60 per cent of those referred to specialist mental health services, or almost 110,000 children, going without treatment in 2017.

Flatlining education spending also increases the pressure on children’s mental health services, as resources in schools to address mental health problems are increasingly stretched.

“If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”

Young adults are now half as likely to own a home as people born 20 years before, according to analysis by the Local Government Association this year. Just 11 per cent of people born in 1996 are on the property ladder, compared with 21 per cent of those born in 1976 who owned their own home by the age of 22.

Plus the cost of renting is rising. Rental prices paid by tenants rose by 1.2 per cent in the 12 months up to March 2019, according to the ONS, and they rose by 7.3 per cent between January 2015 and March 2019.


It looks like those injustices are still burning just as strong.