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Britain faces many challenges; falling real wages, a lack of secure employment and an ageing population among others. On the steps of Downing Street in July 2016 Theresa May outlined those ‘burning injustices’ which systemically hold people back:

“If you’re black you’re treated more harshly in the criminal justice system than if you’re white, if you’re poor you will die on average 9 years earlier than others, if you’re a white working class boy you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university, if you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately, if you’re a woman you will earn less than a man, if you suffer from mental health problems there’s not enough help to hand, if you’re young you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”

These problems have raised widespread concerns with the sustainability of neoliberal capitalism. Ultimately, these issues are about social justice; ensuring that every person in society can get on in life.

Central to Conservatism is an emphasis on equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome as advocated by the left. Conservatives believe that Britain should be the world’s great meritocracy and that each person should be able to go as far as their talents can take them. Conservatives are against complete equality because to create such a society would require extreme state intervention, to redistribute wealth of the kind never seen before in history and which has never ever succeeded. A society which is completely equal lacks innovation, and the incentive to strive to be better. However, current levels of inequality in Britain are excessive and Conservatives are pragmatic in recognition of the effect that this can have in recreating inequality across and within generations, meaning that children from poorer backgrounds are already held back from the moment they are born. Conservatives who believe in true free markets actually believe in greater government intervention to tackle market failure such as monopolies and oligopolies, perverse incentives such as moral hazard, excessive copyrights, patents, trademarks and negative externalities such as environmental damage. Edmund Burke, a prominent 18th century Conservative philosopher, said that at the heart of conservatism and the desire to conserve is recognition of the need for reform. Thus, Conservatives wanting to conserve capitalism must be prepared to reform it and that means intervening in failing markets. Conservatism is about building a sustainable society so that future generations can do better than the last.

The Conservative Party in government has enacted numerous policies to enhance social mobility. David Cameron increased the tax-free personal allowance from £6,500 to £10,500 ensuring that 4 million people were lifted out of income tax altogether. The ‘National Living Wage’ was the biggest pay rise for lower income workers ever. He legalised same-sex marriage and introduced the Pupil Premium and Free School Meals for the most disadvantaged children. He championed the introduction of free schools to allow greater flexibility for children suited to different educational methods. Theresa May has often talked about building ‘a country that works for everyone’ and helping those ‘just about managing.’ As soon as she became PM, Theresa May initiated a review into racial discrimination in public services. She commissioned Matthew Taylor to conduct a review into the changing labour market. She emphasized the need to create new ‘T’ level technical qualifications as alternative pathways to A Levels. She has often talked about reforming corporate governance through mandating worker and consumer representation on company boards and binding shareholder votes on executive pay. An energy price cap to prevent customers being ripped off by energy companies was proposed in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto. She has also talked about building more council homes such as houses for ‘Build to Rent’ and regulating the private rented sector. She has repeatedly emphasised the need for parity of esteem between mental and physical health committing to extra funding and training for school teachers. These are welcome steps, but greater action needs to be taken.

Ultimately, the UK’s chronically low productivity is the driver behind falling living standards but it is a complex, multi-faceted problem with no silver bullet solution. Investment in early years education is crucial in improving the life chances of children as research has shown that the first 5 years of a child’s life are their most formative. Although the government has introduced 30 hours free childcare for 3-4-year olds there is a gap in provision for 0-2-year olds.There needs to be a much greater expansion of free schools and action to develop the T-level technical qualifications that May has advocated. Greater links between businesses, schools and colleges need to be developed to enhance awareness of apprenticeships and to focus on the skills that employers look for. Also, the government should introduce Lifelong Learning Accounts, which enables people to re-skill and upskill during the course of their lifetime by taking approved courses. The government should commit to no further cuts in welfare in the future; research has shown that excessive cuts to benefits can actually impede the search for work by the unemployed as many often struggle to care for frail relatives or suffer from disabilities. May should commit to implementing the recommendations of the Taylor reviewwhich advocates greater rights for self-employed workers and a new category of ‘dependent contractors’ for gig economy workers to enhance their rights. Changes in legislation are also important; such as ensuring businesses cannot discriminate against workers with mental health conditions and acting on proposals from the Lammy Review and Racial Disparity Audit.

Rohit Bansal is a member of Bright Blue and a student at Cambridge University studying geography. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.