Analysis: bold social vision has delivered nothing much
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.