Brexit taking emphasis away from other major problems

Putting health and social care on the back burner is tantamount to allowing unnecessary deaths.

Ever since Theresa May set out her vision to govern for everyone and not just the privileged few last July, those in the charity sector who work to reduce poverty and inequality have waited patiently. Campbell Robb, the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, was one of many charity leaders who hoped for progress. He wanted to see a revamp of the government’s much-criticised “troubled families” programme, a £1bn scheme set up by David Cameron in 2011 and billed as the Tories’ flagship social policy initiative.

But when the Department for Communities and Local Government issued its first annual report on the programme, the charity sector was hugely disappointed. Robb described the document that emerged as “thin” and a “testament to the vacuum” that exists where we need to see “big political and social change”. It was barely noted in the media, which focused instead on a range of austerity-driven changes to the tax and benefit system, announced originally by George Osborne, which came into effect at the beginning of the new tax year. The changes hit the poorest hardest, while helping millions of the better off. The view increasingly held by thinktanks, and across the public sector, is that May’s government – even if well intentioned in wanting to reduce inequality and enhance opportunity for all – is too distracted and too constrained by the state of the public finances to do so.

“There is a danger that Brexit could suck the oxygen out of attempts to implement a sweeping programme of social and economic reform that is badly needed at home,” Robb said.

Even within parts of the Tory party, MPs and others worry that Brexit is now the only show in Whitehall, one so all-consuming, so draining of civil service and ministerial energies that everything else – the May agenda included – is on the back burner.”