Anal­y­sis: bold so­cial vi­sion has de­liv­ered noth­ing much

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk news - Pa­trick But­ler

Theresa May’s first speech on the steps of No 10 on 13 July 2016, in which she pledged to tackle the “burn­ing in­jus­tices” of mod­ern Bri­tain, put a bold and un­ex­pected em­pha­sis on so­cial well­be­ing in the first mo­ments of her gov­ern­ment.

The new prime min­is­ter iden­ti­fied the ne­glected “Jams” (just about man­ag­ing) fam­i­lies, “or­di­nary work­ing class” house­holds who were do­ing their best but strug­gled with job in­se­cu­rity, mort­gage re­pay­ments, and the ever-ris­ing cost of liv­ing.

The Jams might be for­given for be­liev­ing that May has failed to de­liver much at all to them over the past 12 months. For many, the house­hold eco­nomic out­look re­mains flat: static or fall­ing wages, painful gas and elec­tric­ity bills (though May has promised to re­form the en­ergy mar­ket), eye­wa­ter­ing rents (for many younger Jams, home­own­ing is a dis­tant pipe dream) and ris­ing food prices fu­elled by post-Brexit in­fla­tion.

Em­ploy­ment may be at a record high, but the Jams know se­cure jobs are harder to come by. Keep­ing the Jam fam­ily fi­nances in good con­di­tion in­creas­ingly re­quires the salaries of two work­ing par­ents, and yet for many the Tory promise of good qual­ity, af­ford­able child­care re­mains out of reach.

There were also the dis­cor­dant sig­nals to Jam fam­i­lies from May’s elec­tion man­i­festo. She threat­ened to take away their home to pay for so­cial care through the “de­men­tia tax”. Her plans to abol­ish uni­ver­sal free school meals for younger pri­mary school chil­dren left a work­ing fam­ily with two younger chil­dren need­ing to find £900 ($1,150) a year for din­ner money. The pol­icy did not sur­vive the elec­tion.

May’s grab last July for the work­ing class vote was, un­til a few weeks be­fore the 2017 elec­tion, re­garded as a tri­umph. As it turned out, the younger Jam fam­i­lies surged be­hind Labour’s less com­pli­cated of­fer of sup­port for strug­gling strivers.

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