Rachel Schraer cites Sutton Trust research into Britain’s leading people in an article for the BBC.

When Theresa May became prime minister in July 2016 she promised to build a better Britain and lead a government that worked for everyone rather than being “driven by the interests of the privileged few”.

As part of that, she identified seven “burning injustices”.

Since the speech, she and the government have been pre-occupied with Brexit – something Mrs May has called “the biggest peacetime challenge any government has faced”.

So, almost three years on, the Reality Check team assesses how she has fared in tackling the domestic policy goals she set out in Downing Street.

1) “If you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.”

In recent years, the gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived people in England has worsened – by three months for men and seven months for women.

At the time of Mrs May’s speech, the most recent figures on life expectancy inequality were for 2012-14, and showed a 9.1 and 6.9 year gap for men and women respectively. This had grown to 9.3 years and 7.5 years respectively by 2015-17.

We’re looking at England because some key decisions for the rest of the UK, for example around education and health, are devolved to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments and are not in Mrs May’s power.

Establishing how far Theresa May has acted to address this “burning injustice” is tricky, since life expectancy isn’t determined by a single factor.

But there are a few things we know influence how long people are expected to live: lifestyle factors, like smoking and drinking alcohol, and social factors like income, access to good healthcare services and education.

During her premiership, the prime minister pledged an extra £20bn to the NHS in England spread over five years. Globally (with the notable exception of the United States), higher health spending is linked to longer life expectancies.

The benefit of this money hasn’t been felt yet, but we could mark this down as an action taken to address this particular injustice in the future.

On the other hand, spending on public health – including things like smoking cessation and substance misuse services – has fallen since 2016. Social care didn’t get any extra money alongside the NHS’s “70th birthday present”, and education spending is flat-lining.

Benefits cuts pledged before Mrs May became prime minister have continued to be rolled out and food-bank use and homelessness have continued to rise since the summer of 2016.

Since deprivation is the driver of this inequality in life expectancy, all of these things could play a role longer-term.


4) “If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”

The key data in this area comes from the Sutton Trust, which focuses on social mobility. It looked in 2016 at the proportion of people from private schools holding top jobs in a selection of professions.

There is little sign of improvement in this area, although the one area over which Theresa May has direct control – the cabinet – currently has 41% of members who attended independent schools, down from 50% in 2016.

The Social Mobility Commission, which reports to the government on this issue, released its annual report in April saying that social mobility had been virtually stagnant for the past four years.

It also found that people from professional backgrounds are 80% more likely to get into a professional job than their less privileged peers.

  • Social mobility: The worst places to grow up poor
  • State of the Nation report: Inequality ‘entrenched from birth’

“At a time when our country needs to be highly productive and able to carve out a new role in a shifting political and economic landscape, we must find a way to maximise the talent of all our citizens, especially those that start the furthest behind,” said commission chairwoman Dame Martina Milburn.

But there was some optimism from Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First: “Over recent years, we’ve definitely seen a welcome vigour across the education sector and government when it comes to solving the puzzle of inequality,” he said.

“At the government level, this includes a welcome commitment to the pupil premium, new efforts to recruit teachers in poorer areas, and much needed emphasis on careers education in schools.”


Get the full story or see the research.