Bishop of Derby’s speech on inequality and social mobility

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for his analysis, not least his observation that growth is not the answer and the unintended consequences of marketisation, as he called it. I probably want to explore what he might have meant by “the social, stupid”—there is an important clue in that.

I am engaged in this issue. In the City of Derby, where I work, I chair the inner city renewal project. That is the local authority and all kinds of voluntary and faith groups looking at how we can tackle this at grass-roots level, where there are a lot of people who are disadvantaged, with no social mobility and no equality in terms of finance, environment or opportunity. There are two ways of doing this. One is a needs-based approach—what are the needs and what resources can you put in to try to improve things?—and there is what they call an asset-based approach, which means asking what these people have in their own potential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said—what do they have that can be grown so that they can contribute?

I want to name a couple of presuppositions that we have to be careful of in this debate. We live in a world where everyone wants the social mobility graph to go up. There is a celebrity culture and everyone wants to be up there. Of course, things can only go up if other things go down. It is a very complex world. We tend to see equality and social mobility through a very individual lens. That is where “the social, stupid” is so important.

I want to talk about what I think is the missing ingredient here—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, hinted at it with his common values—which is mutuality. This is a debate with anecdotes and stories, and I am going to tell a very short story to illustrate mutuality. Aristotle says that we are social animals and the Christian Gospel says that you have to love your neighbour. We cannot live on our own—mutuality.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to rededicate the grave of a man called William Coltman VC. He received four other awards for bravery in the First World War, and he is buried in a village called Winshill near Burton-on-Trent. He went to war as a young man with a wife and young child, and he was a stretcher-bearer. On the front he won many awards and was in fact the most highly decorated soldier in the whole of the First World War—this is someone who did not have an officer rank. There are amazing stories of him crawling out and rescuing people, Germans as well as Allied people, saving lives and serving others. He came back to the little village that he had left, Winshill, as a local hero, but he resumed his job for the local council. He was a council gardener—he worked in what we call the parks department, I suppose—for all his life. There was no social mobility in terms of his becoming a vice-chancellor, his salary going up or whatever. His life was about service to others. He was involved in the Christian church in the place and he ran a Sunday school to form young people in mutuality. However, his life was fulfilled, exemplary and appropriate. He did not have to go up the social scale and did not have to earn a certain amount of money, but he lived a life that was full of mutuality.

In a world where mutuality is disappearing in personal relationships, which we see through an individual lens, from the workplace, because it is all about individual rights and benefits, and from politics, because the pitch that we make is to the selfish interests of each voter to vote for their own best deal, there is an enormous challenge to all of us to face up to what has been called “the social, stupid”. I ask the Minister: what role do the Government have, along with other agencies, to encourage people to look at this whole issue of inequality and the lack of social mobility, not just through the economic and individual lenses of progress and that kind of thing—going up the chart—but through the kind of common values that create communities and mutuality, where there is a different way of handling the downs as well as the ups and you are not measuring yourself or crucifying yourself against the wrong criteria?

Certainly, the inner city renewal project that I am involved in will flourish only through mutuality. There is not enough money, resources or good jobs to lift all these people, but there is something in the human spirit that can deliver. Governments do not control the human spirit but I think that they can initiate partnerships, set benchmarks and give signals to challenge “the social, stupid”, which is about measuring individual achievement, and they can try to bat for mutuality.


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