Theresa May to shift focus away from UK's poorest people with 'shared society' initiative

Prime Minister turns away from 'obvious injustices' in bid to show term in office will not be defined solely by Brexit

Charlotte England
Sunday 08 January 2017 01:00 GMT
Prime Minister Theresa May during visit to Thames Reach Employment Academy centre, South East London, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to find employment
Prime Minister Theresa May during visit to Thames Reach Employment Academy centre, South East London, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to find employment (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Theresa May is to say she wants to move away from the “social justice” agenda of prioritising helping the poorest people in Britain, and to instead focus on those who live just above the welfare threshold.

The Prime Minister will aim to appeal to “ordinary working class families” in a speech on Monday in which she will introduce a successor ideology to David Cameron’s “big society” plan — the “shared society”.

Ms May will insist the state has a significant role to play in alleviating the "everyday injustices" faced by people who do not qualify for benefits, but will shift the focus away from the rising number of people, including children, who currently live in poverty in the UK.

The Prime Minister will vow to help those struggling to get their children into good schools or to climb the property ladder, rather than focusing on the “obvious injustices” of homelessness and food poverty in a bid to show her term in office will not be defined solely by Brexit.

She is expected to criticise previous administrations for focusing too narrowly on the very poorest through the welfare system. She will say that people just above the welfare threshold felt the system was “stacked against them”.

Ms May has made helping those who are “just about managing” a key goal in her administration and the speech in London on Monday is expected to be the first of a series of interventions on domestic policy over the coming weeks.

Setting out her plans, Ms May will say: “This means a Government rooted not in the laissez-faire liberalism that leaves people to get by on their own, but rather in a new philosophy that means Government stepping up - not just in the traditional way of providing a welfare state to support the most vulnerable, as vital as that will always be.

Theresa May's New Year Message

"But actually in going further to help those who have been ignored by Government for too long because they don't fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support.

"It means making a significant shift in the way that Government works in Britain. Because Government and politicians have for years talked the language of social justice - where we help the very poorest - and social mobility - where we help the brightest among the poor.

"But to deliver the change we need and build that shared society, we must move beyond this agenda and deliver real social reform across every layer of society so that those who feel that the system is stacked against them - those just above the threshold that attracts the Government's focus today, yet those who are by no means rich or well off - are also given the help they need.

“Because people who are just managing, just getting by don't need a Government that will get out of the way, they need a Government that will make the system work for them. An active Government that will work for them and allow them to share in the growing prosperity of post-Brexit Britain.”

The Prime Minister will seek to undermine the "language of social justice and social mobility" in her speech, suggesting these terms focus on a minority and detract from the challenges faced by "ordinary working class" families.

She will say: “While the obvious injustices receive a lot of attention - with the language of social justice and social mobility a staple of most politicians today - the everyday injustices are too often overlooked.

"If you're from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.

“And at the same time, all too often in the past people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse in Britain.”

Ms May said her vision of a “shared society” was aimed at tackling “both the obvious and everyday injustices” in an effort to “overcome division and bring our country together”.

The shared society vision differs from the ideology of Ms May's Tory predecessor David Cameron in that it alludes to a larger role for the state than in the "big society", which saw the burden shifted on to charities. But aside from that the rhetoric is familiar.

“The shared society is one that doesn't just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another. It's a society that respects the bonds that we share as a union of people and nations," Ms May will say.

”The bonds of family, community, citizenship, strong institutions. And it's a society that recognises the obligations we have as citizens - obligations that make our society work.“

Mrs May will appear on the new "Sophy Ridge On Sunday" show on Sky News to set out further details of her plan, which is also expected to include a package of measures to help people with mental health problems.

Additional reporting by PA

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