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Westlake Legal Group > Centre for Social Justice

Rachel Wolf: The Right is good at producing ideas. We need to get better at founding and running institutions.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Every week ConservativeHome publishes a list of public appointments because ”our Party has punched beneath its weight”: few Tories apply.

There are other issues with appointments. Previous administrations have treated the appointment of someone on the Left to lead a review or run a project as a major moral victory (Labour does not tend to return this favour). This is classic bubble thinking – who outside Westminster would notice?

Nevertheless, the basic analysis of this site is right. Not enough apply. The problem is broader, and deeper, than appointments to pre-existing, government-funded jobs. We remain, on the Right, insufficiently interested in creating and running the institutions that deliver on ideas as well as think about them.

On ideas, we are blessed. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Centre for Policy Studies in the last year and they – along with others – have come up with a series of brilliant proposals for future governments.

But coming up with the idea is only the first step, and it is simplistic just to say ‘government should deliver’.

I was reminded of this twice in the last few weeks.

First, because I’ve been reading the General Election Manifestos of the last several decades. In 1945 the Conservatives failed to win an election with ‘Winston Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors’. The author of Labour’s manifesto – which led to the government that founded much of the welfare state – was Michael Young. He later created, among many others, the Open University, Which?, and the first Research Council for economics and social sciences. He has been more important to people’s lives than the vast majority of Cabinet Ministers. I can’t think of any organisations like his being created now.

Second, because this month is the tenth anniversary of the launch of the New Schools Network (NSN), the charity I founded to create Free Schools. I set up NSN because I did not believe that putting Free Schools in an election manifesto was enough – civil servants weren’t going to hunt for the teachers and charities and community groups up and down the country who might want to set up the first schools. I remain convinced of this – I don’t think there would have been many Free Schools without NSN. I don’t think many of our social justice reforms would exist without the Centre for Social Justice, which was founded by Tim Montgomerie, the former editor of this site.

We need many more of these kinds of entities, across the country. For example, we now have a plethora of graduate public sector recruitment programmes – Teach First for teachers, FrontLine for social workers, Unlocked for prison officers. That’s brilliant.

But when I think of my grandmother, who became a social worker when her kids had grown up, and had all her life experience to draw on, I wonder how many older people we are failing to tap. The government is never going to do that well.

Or if I think of my mother, who had young children in the US, and relied on pre-existing co-op systems for babysitting and childcare, I wonder why we don’t have equivalent structures here.

I look in vain for the equivalent of Which? for schools. No producer interests – just an organisation that aims to inform and help parents really understand what their kids should be learning, what that looks like, and how to get the best for their child.

You may think these are terrible ideas – and you may be right! i think my point still stands – governments alone do not create change, and we still lack institutions that can.

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Lord Ashcroft’s Conference Diary: Are the “true Brexiteers” too Brexity to deliver Brexit?

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

Twitter wags have complained that the omnipresent message of the week – “Get Brexit done. Invest in our NHS, schools and police” – means that the conference centre is emblazoned with a list of things that the Conservatives have not delivered.

This seems unfair – parties need to look forward not back, as that Tony Blair used to say – but as I found in my most recent research, many voters are treating the “invest” part of the proposition with more than a little scepticism, even if they are pinning their hopes on the first.

I can’t help noticing, by the way, that some of those demanding that we “get Brexit done” had the chance to do exactly that three times, but voted not to do so on each occasion. What they mean is that we should “get Brexit done” on terms they find acceptable. Fine – but as so often in politics, it depends how we conjugate the verb: I’m defending an important principle; you are being obstructive; he is undermining democracy.

Another point occurs to me here. If events take a calamitous turn over the next few weeks, a government takes over that has no intention of delivering Brexit, and in ten years’ time we are still in the EU, I wonder if the “true Brexiteers”, who were too Brexity for Brexit, will reflect in their dotage on whether they should have voted to get out when they had the chance.

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Ben Wallace, in a grilling by ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace (no relation), rejected the idea that the globe was dividing into empires and that the UK had to pick one. Instead, the world comprises countries who valued “the rule of law, tolerance and democracy, the rules-based system – and those who don’t.”

Moreover, lavish defence spending was no guarantee of a country’s political will. Among our European allies, for example, lots of planning went on “but when it comes to who is going to go to Kosovo or the coast of West Africa, there are not many countries who actually do.”

The UK would continue to face the same question: “Are we an expeditionary country, or do we just have a big budget for the sake of having a big budget? The latter view can’t be right.” In the past, ambition had not always been matched with funding. “My job is not just to sell defence to the public but to sell defence to Whitehall. What we do in Syria now stops people being blown up on the tube in London.”

The Secretary of State appeared promptly for the event despite having come straight from the funeral of Jacques Chirac in Paris. How had it been? “I had Putin in front of me and the FSB behind me. There were all sorts of people I recognised from Kremlin mugshots.”

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Things are often a matter of perspective, as Syed Kamall pointed out at a Centre for Social Justice discussion on the “forgotten few” who remain without jobs despite the UK’s record employment levels. Housing estates, for example, are often thought of as hubs of crime, but instead we should consider them hubs of enterprise: “Lots of people are starting businesses. Some of them are legal.”

Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon – the pub chain employing 40,000 people which is responsible, he calculates, for 1/1000th of all taxes paid in the UK – is adamant on the subject of sensible regulation: “France is good at creating big jobs but it’s regulated small jobs out of the economy.” While Britain did better – licensing and environmental health rules worked well – “corporate governance is run by highly educated people in the City who think they know all about business but actually know f-all.”

The recommendation that board members should serve no more than nine years means that “not one director of a UK bank was there during the last crisis. Now isn’t that reassuring?” Above all, policymakers should not look down their noses what they sometimes think of as small jobs: “Whenever I saw David Cameron and George Osborne I thought “if only you’d worked for us for a couple of years. There’s nothing like having to go into a pub in Deansgate in Manchester on a Friday night and say to six hundred people ‘OK you lot, out’.”

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Spirited debate in the Institute of Economic Affairs ‘Think Tent’ on whether the nanny state has gone too far. “It’s no longer ‘a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down’, but ‘a spoon full of sugar will kill you and it’s time for the state to step in and save you from yourself, you greedy monster’,” as Darren Grimes put it.

For Chris Snowdon, author of Killjoys: A Critique of Paternalism, the problem was that there was no logical endpoint to regulation – in America, for example, banning smoking on planes had once been considered the final frontier, but it was now illegal in some places to smoke within 25 feet of a building. The idea that such policies were evidence-based was also suspect: if minimum alcohol pricing could be set at 50p per unit, “why not 60p, why not 80p? Why not £5? It’s not evidence-based but what they think they can get away with.”

MBen Bradley worried that the Government too often listenes to pressure groups instead of normal people. He hoped this would not be the case with the anti-meat lobby: “If you went to an estate in my constituency and said you were going to double the price of their sausages, they would be pretty grumpy about it.”

According to Tim Stanley, the ultimate goal should be “not for the state to tell people how to run their lives but that people are educated and culturally enriched enough to run their own lives.” For him, “the good life is steak and chips, a glass of wine and a Marlboro Light. Sometimes the government just needs to say to the lobbyists: ‘no’.” On the other hand, the tax on supermarket plastic bags meant that “people are using wicker baskets again like 50 years ago, which is marvellous.”

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Imogen Sinclair: Burke offers a solution to the decline of community

Imogen Sinclair works at the Centre for Social Justice, leading research on transforming deprived communities.

“What would you be doing if you weren’t here this morning?”, I asked Bill, who is a regular player at Treherbert Bowls Club in the Rhondda Fawr Valley. “At home, drinking, bored”, he replied, along with a chorus of affirming murmurs and nods from fellow players.

For Bill, playing bowls is much more than a Friday morning jaunt. And for millions more, our libraries, youth clubs and sports pitches are places on which people depend for social capital. Social capital? Pounds and pence are the coin of the realm, but this year I spent time with community groups in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods to understand what bowls, reading groups and bingo clubs can afford them. The CSJ’s latest report, Community Capital, released today, presents how purposeful participation in such activity empowers humans to flourish.

It was immediately apparent that despite economic decline in many of our town and cities, as long as there are people then “little platoons” will continue to form around shared experiences, interests and values. Burke taught us to respect the platoons, for they are the mediatory institutions that occupy the space between the individual and the state. Accordingly, this space must not be surrendered such that individuals are left with only the state to depend on.

Like Bill, Shelley told us that the Bowls Club provides respite from being the sole carer for her husband. And for Julie, a reading group shapes her week by providing something to look forward to. Similarly, Mike told us, “nothing came out of my life” before he started attending a local youth centre.

This kind of community engagement is not just a nice story to line the cloud of economic hardship, it is vital for what is typically termed “wellbeing”. But why use today’s buzzword when some two millennia ago Aristotle opted for a much more zingy term to describe an ancient take on the same phenomenon, which translates to “human flourishing”?

Bill, Shelley, Julie and Mike’s social contributions empower them towards human flourishing; enabling them to realise their responsibility to people and cultivate a belonging to place. At this, the policy wonks of Westminster enquire “What is the intervention?” Relationships. “And the referral process?” The door, open from 9am. “What is the economic impact?” Well, the invaluable support – effectively unpaid work – offered by family, neighbours and local community groups, was valued by the Office for National Statistics in 2014 at £1 trillion, equivalent to 56 per cent of GDP.

There was much furore at George Osborne’s trebling of a fund to repair listed church roofs in 2015. But the social capital that such spaces like churches afford people must not be left out of Treasury calculations.

John Hayes, who chaired the Working Group for this report, is a long-time advocate for such places as the guarantors of the stability which spawns shared meaning to human lives. He contends that if social capital is the train, then social infrastructure is the track. Our prized economy depends on long-term sustainable enterprise and industry, and so our social fabric depends on social infrastructure. Our Prime Minster vowed to support “vital social and cultural infrastructure, from libraries and art centres to parks and youth services: the institutions that bring communities together, and give places new energy and new life”.

But just last year, the Local Trust found that post offices, pubs, libraries, youth centres, children’s centres, banks, bingo halls, churches, playground facilities, museums, and parks had declined over the past few decades. For the Burkeans among us, this is a tragedy.

There is one final and crucial point that must be made about social infrastructure, and I address it to government. Building community is primarily about shifting power, rather than a new intervention. Our most vulnerable and disadvantaged Britons are not only short of money, but sociologists and economist alike agree that intrinsic to poverty is a sense of powerlessness.

“Poverty is pain: it feels like a disease […] It eats away one’s dignity and drives one into total despair”, said one respondent to a study called Voices of the Poor. This can and must be addressed. Not by cash injections which lift people above an otherwise arbitrary financial threshold, but through fostering secure connections to families, institutions and places. Our communities cherish such places, and are therefore best placed to preserve them.

We must move away from the assumption that government must be the sole operator of filling gaps. There are some 390,000 civil society organisations who are well placed to offer intelligent, nurturing and local welfare. Back to Burke, I say. We must dignify civil society by giving our unsung heroes the tools to sustain social infrastructure. Instead, government must recognise the potential in civil society, and in the spirit of decentralisation, harness this. We need more community ownership of public buildings, we need to trust their judgment and allowing their pride of place to drive creative solutions to local problems.

And, more fundamental, we need to inspire a shift in the ambition of government to pursue a new agenda – human flourishing through measuring not just individual economic contributions, but purposeful participation in our village halls, libraries and youth clubs.

There is a great subterranean shift going on in our culture, a turning away from the brashly new, from the quick and modern, from the solely individualistic measure of personal fulfilment. We are reaching once again for connection, belonging, and a sense of meaning which goes beyond our own immediate gratification. What is left is for government to align with these values by measuring what matters.

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Patrick Spencer: What the new Government should do to ensure migrants are better skilled – and supported

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The debate around immigration has become fraught to the point of complete intransigence in recent years. Events as close to home as the Grenfell Tower tragedy and as far afield as the Syrian civil war have brought the subject to the fore again. Inflammatory rhetoric here as well as in other countries hasn’t helped. As we leave the European Union, cooler heads must prevail.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is today releasing a report that brings a level-headedness to the debate that is sorely needed. Importantly, it places the interests of immigrants squarely at the centre of its proposals. Immigration policy should not just be about who is allowed to come and work in Britain, but also how we support those people who do, so that they can avoid the trappings of low pay, unsafe working conditions, crime, social marginalisation and poverty.

The reality is that uncontrolled immigration growth over the last 15 to 20 years has worked – to a point. Our services, manufacturing and agricultural industries have benefited from skilled and inexpensive labour from EU new member States.

However, the economic costs of low-skilled immigration have been both wage stagnation at the bottom end of the income spectrum – analysis at the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration found that “an inflow of immigrants of the size of 1 per cent of the native population would lead to a 0∙6 per cent decrease at the 5th wage percentile and a 0∙5 per cent decrease at the 10th wage percentile” – and low levels of productivity boosting capital investment. High-skilled immigration has had the opposite effect though, increasing wages, productivity, innovation and capital investment.

In the long term, it is also likely that the British economy will demand less low-skilled labour. Automation, technology and changing firm dynamics are likely to mean a greater focus on hiring higher-skilled workers, and more fluid jobs in which individuals are expected to take on multiple roles and work across multiple teams. The CSJ argues therefore that is irresponsible to continue to operate an immigration system that is deaf to the demands of our changing economy, and risks leaving migrant labourers unemployed and at risk of falling in to poverty.

It is for this reason that the CSJ’s first policy recommendation for this Conservative Government post-Brexit is folding all EU immigration in to the existing Tier 2 skilled immigration system, and tightening up the eligibility for Tier 2 applicants so that they are genuinely skilled and can command a wage well above the UK median. Key to this recommendation is carving out occupations that are deemed of strategic interest to the UK economy, for instance nurses and doctors who come to work in our NHS, but do not earn above average salaries.

The Government’s responsibility to immigrants should not stop there. For those that do come to Britain legally, whether under refugee status or another route, we must make sure support is there to reduce the risk that they and their children become socially marginalised, end up in low-paid work or unemployed, and get stuck in the criminal justice system. It is naïve to think the immigration policy debate ends on day two.

In that vein, the CSJ also recommend more integrated support for refugees when they come to Britain, including better financial support, longer term housing options and help with English speaking skills. The report also calls for a beefing up of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement financial powers and reach. There are potentially thousands of foreign individuals kept in forced servitude in Britain today, and many more working in unsafe conditions for illegally low pay.

Finally, it is high time the Government addresses the huge disparities in economic outcomes among minority and indigenous ethnic groups. Generations of immigrants from some groups still perform poorly in the education system, labour market and criminal justice system.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that poverty rates among Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Groups are twice as high as for White British groups. Dame Louise Casey discovered that individuals of South East Asian and Caribbean descent were three times and twice as likely to live in deprived parts of the UK, when compared to White British groups. Just one third of Bangladeshi women living in Britain are in employment compared to three quarters of White British women. One in five Black African and Black Caribbean men and almost one in four Mixed Race men are economically inactive. Unless the Government addresses the problem with real gusto, it will persist.

This report calls for calmer and more long-term thinking on immigration policy that prioritises high-skilled immigration and increases support for parts of the country that have struggled due to uncontrolled low-skilled immigration. Public opinion reflects this – polling by Hanbury Strategy earlier this year found that 51 per cent of the UK public recognise that not all parts of the UK have benefited from immigration, while YouGov polling in 2018 found that ‘treating EU citizens who want to come and live in the UK the same as people from elsewhere in the world’ was supported by 65 per cent of respondents and scrapping the limit of high skilled immigrants was supported by 46 per cent of respondents.

This is a great opportunity for the new Government to fix this long-standing issue of contention in British politics for the long term.

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Patrick Spencer: Some advice for the new Conservative leader. Stick to these three ideas to boost productivity.

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The Conservative leadership contest has proved to be the battle of ideas that the party wants, needs and should probably have had back in 2016. Yes, Brexit has dominated the discussion, but in amongst chat of proroguing, No Deals and backstops, we have heard interesting ideas about, for example, tax reform, a national citizens’ service and early years support for young mothers. During the Parliamentary stage of the contest, the Centre for Social Justice hosted the Social Justice Caucus of Tory MPs, holding their own hustings event for the Conservative leadership, and the candidates didn’t disappoint.

The litany of new ideas stem from the fact that most of the candidates felt it is time to reshape the Government’s fiscal strategy. The last nine years have been defined by successive Coalition and Conservative government’s support for fiscal rebalancing. David Cameron and George Osborne successfully formed governments after two general elections on a platform of fiscal prudence.

However, the political landscape has changed. Younger voters who weren’t around to vote in 2010 now make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Years of austerity, job growth and a much healthier national balance sheet has meant that ‘austerity’ is increasingly unpopular.  Combine this with the perceived economic harm that a No Deal Brexit may cause, and the case for loosening austerity is compelling.

In this vein, Boris Johnson has argued for lower taxes on higher earners as well as increased spending on education. Esther McVey wanted to cut the International Aid budget and spend savings on the police and education. Dominic Raab called to raise the National Insurance Threshold and cut the basic rate of income tax. Michael Gove hoped to reform VAT so that it becomes a Sales Tax. And Sajid Javid said he would slow the rate of debt reduction, which would free up £25 billion for new spending commitments.

Even outside of the leadership circle, Tory MPs and right-of-centre think tanks are advocating for a new spending strategy.  Neil O’Brien has coined the ‘O’Brien Rule’, which allows for budget deficits as long as debt as a percentage of GDP is falling. This sentiment was echoed by Philip Hammond, who called on every leadership candidate to commit to keeping the deficit under two per cent of GDP as long as the national debt was falling.

Considering the appetite to do something, the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister should be warned that spending for spending’s sake is not a good idea. If the decision is taken therefore to loosen the fiscal taps, it should be carefully targeted so that this increases growth and more importantly, productivity.

The Centre for Social Justice released a report in 2017 that highlighted a clear policy agenda that used tax and spend policies to boost productivity across the UK. It is roundly recognised that the productivity conundrum in the UK has not been the result of any one issue but, rather, is a confluence of factors that have taken hold of our economic and social machine.

First and foremost, British companies do not invest and innovate enough. Compared to other countries we have lower levels of capital investment, lower uptake of new-generation technologies such as robotics, and entrepreneurs sell out too early. Britain has a proud history of innovation and technology, and yes we do have several world beating unicorn companies, but in recent years we have lost ground in the innovation stakes to the US, Germany and the Asian economies.

The CSJ recommended a raft of policies that could help reverse this, starting with a ramp up in public funds available for research and development. Public cash for R+D has a crowding in (as opposed to crowding out) effect. We also called (counter-intuitively) for the scrapping of Entrepreneurs Tax Relief. It is expensive and does little to help real entrepreneurs, and only acts as a tax loophole for asset strippers (this policy has recently been advocated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation). We also called for simplification of the tax system. Look at the Annual Investment Allowance, for instance, that was decreased by 75 per cent in 2012, increased by a factor of 10 in 2013, doubled in 2015, only for it to then be almost cut in half in 2016.

Second, the CSJ called for a radical increase in support for vocational education in the UK. While businesses needed some help to innovate and compete, the labour market needs support in terms of skills and competencies. Recommendations included a new spending commitment for FE colleges and more support for adult learners who are in low skilled work. The Augar Review called for the Government to make £1 billion available for colleges, a good start but realistically the Government will have to go much further in the future. here is an example of where public money can make a big difference in public policy.

Last, if the next Prime Minister wants to support productivity growth, they can look at rebalancing growth outside of London across Britain’s regions. London is home to less than a quarter of the UK’s population but contributes to 37 per cent of our economic output. It attracts a disproportionate number of high skilled and high paying jobs. Public spending on infrastructure in London dwarfs that spent in the North and Midlands. Reversing this trend will of course take a generation, but by boosting transport spending on inter-city transport (most obviously Northern Rail), tax breaks for companies that set up in struggling cities such as Doncaster, Wigan or Bradford, as well as more money for towns and cities to spend on green spaces and cultural assets (such as museums, public art, restaurants and bars) that attract young people.

These three productivity-generating policy areas will allow any Government to loosen the fiscal taps without bankrupting the country. When the next Prime Minister appoints his Chancellor, he or she would be well advised to stick to the basics of cutting taxes, spending more on education and rebalancing growth outside of London.

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Robert Halfon: Under our new leader, we must prize social justice above social mobility

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Compassionate Conservatism courses through the veins of this Party. I know – I speak to colleagues and members every day. From educational attainment to lack of in-work progression. From family breakdown to fragile social care. From addiction to defunct housing. These concerns, and many more that disproportionately affect society’s most disadvantaged individuals, are deeply troubling for us all.

We are the Party of high school standards and aspiration. The Party that introduced the National Living Wage, the Modern Slavery Act, the Pupil Premium. Compassionate Conservatives believe in a strong safety net, but also in a dynamic welfare system that is ambitious for individuals, rather than one that writes them off.

Our Party is the champion of free trade and enterprise – the engine of prosperity for us all. But, we also recognise the state’s vital role in helping disadvantaged individuals overcome adversity so that they, too, can prosper.

All too often, however, our concerns about the most disadvantaged are not reaching the light of day. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Social Justice, just five per cent of low-income voters think the Conservative Party is “compassionate”. 72 per cent say the Party is not concerned about people on low incomes. 52 per cent believe that we “don’t understand what it is like to struggle”. And 57 per cent say Conservatives “only care about the rich”. These are damning statistics, and do not reflect my colleagues’ natural sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Left hoovers up recognition, despite the mirage of its self-declared monopoly on compassion. Take its proposals on welfare, which focus more on parking people on benefits than on encouraging aspiration. Or Corbyn’s plan to scrap tuition fees; an enormously wasteful and regressive measure that would suck precious resources out of the pot – resources that could instead be used to support the most disadvantaged. Or Labour’s misconceived notion that helping poorer individuals can only be achieved by taking down the rich.

It is time Conservatives claim compassion as one of our own. However, we cannot do so until we are clearer about what we mean by this.

Equality of opportunity should be right at the heart of our thinking. The problem, however, is that this has become synonymous with social mobility – a term that has become increasingly fashionable but loses sight of the bigger picture. At its core, social mobility implies the capability to move up the ladder of opportunity. But it is not enough just to focus on this. There are swathes of people who are not even at the foot of the ladder in the first place; people who are so far removed from the mainstream that the idea of progression and self-fulfilment is a distant fog.

If we are serious about creating opportunity for all, Conservatives also need to have an answer for these individuals and can only do so by thinking about social justice. This means addressing all the personal circumstances in somebody’s life that are shackling his or her ability to enjoy the opportunities that exist in society. In addition, we must tackle the things that cause people to crash into poverty, rather than the symptoms: educational failure, worklessness, family breakdown, unmanageable debt, addiction, disability, exposure to crime, poor housing.

If we fail to grasp this, we will fail the Conservative Party’s moral heritage. We will also, almost certainly, demolish our prospects of a working majority in the next general election.

The Centre for Social Justice has calculated that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats in the country. And in every single one of those seats, these individuals exceed the majority of the standing MP, in many cases by a considerable margin. Put simply, the Conservative Party cannot win the next general election without winning the hearts and minds of society’s most disadvantaged individuals.

The next leader must deliver Brexit, arguably, the most daunting task faced by a post-war Prime Minister. And he must do so swiftly and decisively. But this cannot define his premiership. Brexit was a symptom of a much broader restlessness in our society: the marginalisation of large numbers of people from prosperity. The answer to that is a bold, assertive domestic agenda that has social justice right at its core.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, the victor must stitch together the ripped fabric of our society. He must reach out to those who are stuck on the side lines of prosperity. And he must reignite the compassionate instincts that lie at the heart of this great Party.

To make a start, our future Government should transform the current Social Mobility Commission into a Social Justice Commission, embedded in the heart of Downing Street. They must address all the concerns I have outlined, and more, to make sure Government brings every single person to the ladder of opportunity, not matter who they are, where they come from, or what difficulties they face.

The Commission should produce social justice impact assessments on domestic policy and legislative proposals. They should not only be a means by which negative effects are flagged but should be used to ensure that everything we Conservatives do is positively helping to improve the lives of those who need looking out for most.

As our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said, delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU. “The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”

What comes next is equally important, if not more so, and delivering social justice to all corners of our nation must be a focal part of it.

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Alice Wilcock: Prisons are a national scandal, and need a national response

Alice Wilcock is a Criminal Justice Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice. Her research has focused on the prison and probation service in England and Wales, victim support and serious youth violence. Read the full report.

In a week where Rory Stewart, the Prisons Minister, put himself forward as a potential candidate to replace the Prime Minister, the prison reform agenda could not be more critical. After all, this is the legacy that Stewart himself has asked to be judged upon.

Our prisons are some of the most unsafe and unjust places in civil society today. Last year, more than 34,000 brutal assaults were carried out behind the locked doors of our prison estate and 10,000 assaults were suffered by prison staff.

Our latest report, published this week, reveals that over a third of prison officers have less than two years’ experience. With too few officers on the landings, prisoners have increasingly had to stay inside their cells for inhumane lengths of time – or, conversely, overwhelmed officers have had to lock themselves away in offices. One prisoner described feeling as if they were being “left to rot”, while staff said they felt “unsafe”.

This represents a huge waste and lost opportunity. Prisons can be awe-inspiring sites of rehabilitation, providing prisoners with the tools, such as education and employment opportunities, to turn their lives around.

But instead, whether in the quest for relief or exploited by predatory drug dealers, far too many inmates have taken to using drugs and new psychoactive substances. Videos posted by prisoners on social media show naked inmates leashed and scrapping like dogs and others brushing their teeth with soiled toilet brushes.

One prison officer disclosed to me the extent to which these abhorrent levels of brutality have become just another day at work for front-line staff. She told me how so much of the job was responding to urgent calls to break up inmate violence, a task their limited training had ill-prepared them for: “My workmates have dealt with much worse than me. I’ve not been hospitalised or anything, yet, so I can’t really complain,” she smiled, only half-joking.

It’s a grim reality that one in ten of the 10,000 assaults on prison staff were serious last year. That means prison officers were sent to A&E for treatment, sexually assaulted, or that their injury left them with one of a myriad of life altering conditions including: burns and scalds, broken bones and teeth and in some cases blindness.

Our current Prisons Minister is not insensitive to the scale of the problem. In Stewart, the prison estate has one of the most dedicated and engaged ministers to have ever held the post. In fact, in August of last year, he promised to resign if he was unable to reduce our prisons’ scourge of drugs and violence within twelve months.

However, this promise was limited to focus only on ten target prisons. The pledged investment for better security and improved conditions provided little material benefit for the more than one hundred other prisons and their officers across England and Wales.

The recruitment of 2,500 additional prison officers nationwide will prove to be futile if the service is unable to retain them and keep them safe. Prison officers should be offered, at minimum, welfare support to help address trauma and anxiety exacerbated by their job. We also need to get serious about tackling drug supply: body scanners have a proven record of success, and their national roll out across our prison service is long overdue.

Whatever your view on crime, the state of our prisons really is a national scandal. It will take political and organisational leadership to turn it around – and it will take resource. We have political leadership in Rory Stewart, and the promise of organisational leadership in Dr Jo Farrar, the new prisons and probation leader. What must now follow is resource and will.

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Frank Young: The next Conservative leader must make social justice their top priority

Frank Young is Political Director of the Centre for Social Justice.

The Centre for Social Justice exists to put social justice at the heart of British politics. As part of that we regularly hold policy discussions, dinners and briefings with MPs who are as passionate as we are about the issues we cover. Over the last couple of years we have hosted politicians, journalists, academics and others to direct conversations, but as the wider Conservative leadership murmurings have increased, so meetings with people like the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary have come under the public spotlight.

The straightforward reality is that politicians have an opportunity to transform lives, society and our economy by tackling the root causes of poverty: problems like worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, debt, and addiction. This is because an approach to social justice which changes the lives of the poorest people, benefits everybody.

When families on the margins find stability, work and independence, more adults and children can thrive, more people become net contributors within society, and demands on the public purse reduce. We all gain.

It is also a priority for the people of the UK. The electorate is clear that social justice should be the priority of any government. It is the core role of politics.

The CSJ seeks a programme for a government that is passionate about self-reliance but believes in the power of an enabling state. We want people to stand on their own feet but see a role for a thriving social sector. We want to protect the principle of a safety net welfare system, but for those who can work, we say that is the best choice for individuals, families, and wider society.

We have witnessed some remarkable improvements in recent decades but over the next few years the Government will have to lead our country through further instability at home and abroad. It is crucial, therefore, that social justice remains a political priority. And there can be no greater priority.

The state of the nation

Though many of the headline figures are historically good, they hide a variation around the country that cannot be ignored. Unemployment is at record lows and our schools are better than ever. But while national employment has reached an all-time high of almost 76 per cent, the figure masks huge regional variation. Similarly, the average wage of the UK hides a reality that only London and the South East sit above the average wage growth, with every other region of the UK lagging behind.

In education, there are more children than ever attending Good or Outstanding rated schools in the UK. But a child living in one of England’s poorest areas is still ten times more likely to go to an Inadequate rated school than a child living in one of its richest areas. Similarly, and in part as a consequence, just 44 per cent of disadvantaged children get a good pass in English and Maths in GCSEs compared to 71 per cent of their better off peers.

We now have the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe, and in one generation the marriage rate has slumped to half its lowest point in recorded history. Drug-related deaths in the UK have never been higher. And their use in prisons has led to a system in which prisoners are no longer even safe, let alone rehabilitated.

Gambling addiction has doubled in a decade, as has rough sleeping, and mental health services are stretched to breaking.

The need for government action is clear and urgent. Positive headline statistics disguise too many lives lived on the margins of society.

What Brexit really means

There is no better illustration of this divided country than Brexit. The story of the referendum was not just one of European policy. The decision to leave the European Union was an unequivocal statement for millions of people who want to change the political, economic, and social status quo. It is a huge mistake to think that the vote simply reflected a desire to leave the EU.

The vote to Leave was in no small part a cry of frustration from millions of people who feel that the powers that be in Westminster no longer know, or even care, how it feels to walk in their shoes.

The lower your income, the more likely you were to vote leave. The less-well educated voters were more likely to back Leave. The majority of those not in work backed Leave. Those living in social housing mostly backed Leave. Those dependent on a state pension largely backed Leave.

In short, the people with little or nothing to lose from quitting the EU – as they saw it – backed Leave. It would be wrong to make too many sweeping statements about the state of the nation based on that one vote. But it would be far worse to ignore a clear message that underpins it.

A mandate for change

In the light of the evidence, and the outcome of that vote, we have a once in a lifetime chance to reshape public policy so that it genuinely helps those who feel they have no stake in society.

When many individuals and communities feel so alienated, the Government must address ways of rebuilding relationships in our families, communities, workplaces and beyond.

This is the core role of government and the philosophy underpinning the CSJ’s priorities.

Here are our 15 priorities for government:

The best start in life:

1. Create a Government focused on supporting families with an Office of Family Policy.

2. More pre-school support for the disadvantaged families.

3. Address the growing scandal of children excluded from mainstream schooling.

4. Have greater ambition for Children in Care and their futures.

5. Tackle health’s determinants to close the 20-year healthy life expectancy gap.

A good job:

6. Confront the regional dynamics that shape the British economy.

7. Invest in Universal Credit and Universal Support.

8. Transform the vocational education offer.

9. Support people with disabilities to thrive in work.

10. Do not be afraid to endorse good businesses.

Protect the people struggling most:

11. Restore control, order, and hope to our prisons.

12. Stop ‘parking’ addicts and work towards abstinent recovery.

13. Homelessness strategies like Housing First must be widely rolled out.

14. Tackle rising violent crime and restore community safety.

15, Address the housing crisis through more truly affordable homes.

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Victoria Borwick: We must invest in the next generation to cut knife crime

Victoria Borwick is the former Conservative MP for Kensington and was the Deputy Mayor of London to Boris Johnson from 2012 to 2015.

The rise in knife crime and violent crime, particularly amongst young people, has heightened the debate about drugs. However, I am not one of those hand-wringers who think the answer to knife crime and drug wars is the legalisation of drugs. What do you think the drug dealers would go off and do? Sit around? This is very unlikely. This is a problem that must be tackled from all sides with unity and purpose. This is about investing in our young people.

Why do young people deal in drugs? Because they want to fund their lifestyle – they seek the protection and fake friendship of gang life, and carry a knife for “safety”. This is a very serious issue and has disastrous consequences for us as a society. This is not the time for pointing the finger at just one cause.

First, we must re-examine our education system so it is not just about passing “final year” exams, but about training people to give them the skills to get a job. If you have a job and steady income you are far less likely to get involved in crime. For too long, we have under-invested in skills and training programmes – they have been a poorly funded add-on and not a serious career path.

Yes, there is greater investment now, but there are many years to make up for. These opportunities and options should start far earlier in children’s lives, enabling a twin-track of skills training – IT skills, engineering skills, advanced robotics, and AI as well as practical skills in electrical engineering and all the construction trades. There is a reason that so many employers on building sites take young people from overseas: they have started their practical skills and engineering training far younger than we offer here in the UK.

Young people need role models, and need to know and have evidence that there is a better life than taking drugs, dealing drugs and carrying knives. Sometimes there is no real boundary between the lives of the victims and the background of the perpetrators. This is not just a policing matter; voluntary organisations, young people’s groups, cadets, schools, families and the wider community all have a role to play. Schools should open their premises in the evenings so they can be used by local voluntary groups for sports and opportunities to learn and relax in a safe environment. Councils can be the co-ordinators, the convenors that bring together all the local provision, to focus on and track those who need the greatest help.

Drug takers often descend into other criminal activity – something legalisation would not stop, as drugs would still have to be paid for even from “approved stores”. Additionally, addicts would still crave different combinations and stronger variations which dealers will be all too happy to supply. Evidence from the USA suggests that black market operators will simply adapt rather than disappear.

A report from the Centre for Social Justice at the end of last year found that legalisation would probably drive a million young people to take drugs, so why on earth would we want to inflict this on our society, on our communities? This is a time for positive help and investment in our future, in the next generation – not make it easier for them to become addicts and criminals.

I find it abhorrent that given what we know about the dangers of smoking and alcohol we should consider softening our approach to drugs and encourage the next generation to think it was “safe” despite all the evidence to the contrary – especially as tobacco was once considered “healthy” and “medicinal”. Look at the change in attitudes to smoking during one generation, it is no longer the personification of style and we now know it leads to poor health, asthma, cancer –  and, frankly, it smells awful.

As the previous Deputy Mayor of London, I have been out with the ambulance service on some of those very busy weekends in holiday times, and I have seen for myself the dangers of too much drink, of being abandoned by your friends and how lonely and disorientated those high on drugs can be, totally unable to care for themselves.

Evidence from Canada and Colorado shows that drug liberalisation has not significantly reduced drug use, in fact, there has often been a spike as people think it must be OK because it is now legal.

How can policy makers think this is the responsible thing to do? This is an important public health issue and it needs to be approached in the same way, just as we teach about the dangers of smoking and alcohol we need to be very clear about the damage of inappropriate drug use.

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