The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said today that the first half of Labour’s 12 years in office may have been ‘as good as it gets’ for tackling inequality and poverty in Britain.
In a report on progress made since 1997 on making Britain a more equal society, the JRF said that on many measures, including child and pensioner poverty, the government started well but then lost momentum.
The JRF said the government was helped in the early years by a strong economy, which provided money for redistribution, large majorities in the House of Commons and public support for greater public spending.
Environment hostile to equality
However, it warned that the current environment was not supportive of egalitarian policies, due to fiscal pressures coming from an ageing society, the potential impact of policies to tackle climate change on the poor and a hardening of public attitudes to those on benefits.
The JRF said there were significant reductions in child and pensioner poverty up to 2004-5, but these has been reversed since then on child poverty, while pensioner poverty also increased in 2006-7, the latest year for which figures are available.
It said early successes in tackling long-term and youth employment had stalled or reversed and this will be exacerbated by the current economic downturn.
However, it said that in other areas, such as investment in early years and action to tackle educational inequalities, policies had intensified over recent years, but said any benefits from these initiatives were likely to be long-term.