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Full text: Theresa May’s ‘shared society’ speech

9 January 2017

1:30 PM

9 January 2017

1:30 PM

Thank you for inviting me to be here this morning to deliver the prestigious Charity Commission Annual Lecture.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to express my appreciation for all those who work in our charity sector and for those who freely give their time, money and expertise in the service of others. We are a country built on the bonds of family, community and citizenship and there is no greater example of the strength of those bonds than our great movement of charities and social enterprises.

But the strength of that civil society – which I believe we should treasure deeply – does not just depend on the ingenuity, generosity and commitment of countless volunteers, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists. As with other parts of our economy, it also depends on the practices that our charities and social enterprises adopt; and above all on the public trust they command.

That is why the work that William, Paula and their team at the Charity Commission are doing is so important. Because the reforms they are leading are strengthening the sector – and together with the new Fundraising Regulator – ensuring public confidence in our charities and the contribution they make in helping to meet some of the greatest social challenges of our time.

And let’s be clear that some of those challenges are significant and long-standing.
We live in a country where if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. 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’re likely to be paid 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.

There are not easy answers to these problems, but it is vital that we come together to address them. For they are all burning injustices that undermine the solidarity of our society and stunt our capacity to build the stronger, fairer country that we want Britain to be.

But the challenges don’t end there. Governments have traditionally been good at identifying – if not always addressing – such problems. However, the mission I have laid out for the Government – to make Britain a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few – goes further. It means more than fighting these obvious injustices. It means acknowledging and addressing the everyday injustices that too many people feel too.

Because 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.

But if you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. The injustice you feel may be less obvious, but it burns inside you just the same.

For you have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.

You are putting in long hours with little time for yourself – working to live, and living to work. You give work your all, but there is still little left over at the end of the month to spend on the things that really matter to you. Your wages have stagnated for several years in a row, and you feel you are getting by, not necessarily getting on.

And at the same time, over recent years these people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse in Britain. If they voiced their concerns, their views were shut down. Decisions made in faraway places didn’t always seem to be the right decisions for them. They saw their community changing, but didn’t remember being consulted – or agreeing to – that change. They looked at the changing world – the onset of globalisation and the advances in technology – and worried about what the future held for their children and grandchildren.

It is clear to me – and I believe that last year’s vote to leave the European Union partially revealed this to be true – that there are growing numbers of people in every part of our country – in our cities, suburbs, towns, countryside and coastal areas – for whom this is the reality of life.

And the consequence is this: when you see others prospering while you are not; when you try to raise your concerns but they fall on deaf ears; when you feel your very identity – all that you hold dear – is under threat, resentments grow, and the divisions that we see around us – between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation; between the wealth of London and the rest of the country; between the rich, the successful and the powerful, and their fellow citizens – become entrenched.

That’s why I believe that – when we consider both the obvious and the everyday injustices in unison – we see that the central challenge of our times is to overcome division and bring our country together by ensuring everyone has the chance to share in the wealth and opportunity on offer in Britain today. And that starts by building something that I call the shared society.

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. The bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions.

And it’s a society that recognises the obligations we have as citizens – obligations that make our society work.

A few months ago at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, I upset some by saying that ‘if you think you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’.

But my point was simple. It was that the very word ‘citizen’ implies that we have responsibilities to the people around us. The people in our community, on our streets, in our places of work. And too often today, those responsibilities have been forgotten as the cult of individualism has taken hold, and globalisation and the democratisation of communications has encouraged people to look beyond their own communities and immediate networks in the name of joining a broader global community.

I want to be absolutely clear about what I am saying here. I am not arguing against globalisation – nor the benefits it brings – from modern travel and modern media to new products in our shops and new opportunities for British companies to export their goods to millions of consumers all around the world. Indeed, I have argued that Britain has an historic global opportunity to lead the world in shaping the forces of globalisation so that everyone shares in the benefits of economic growth.

But just as we need to act to address the economic inequalities that have emerged in recent years, so we also need to recognise the way that a more global and individualistic world can sometimes loosen the ties that bind our society together, leaving some people feeling locked out and left behind.

And the central tenet of my belief – the thing that shapes my approach – is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest.

We form families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations. And we embrace the responsibilities those institutions imply.
And government has a clear role to play to support this conception of society.

It is to act to encourage and nurture those relationships, networks and institutions where it can. And it is to step up to correct injustices and tackle unfairness at every turn – because injustice and unfairness are the things that drive us apart.

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. 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 who are by no means rich or well off – are also given the help they need.

So we will recalibrate how we approach policy development to ensure that everything we do as government helps to give those who are just getting by a fair chance – while still helping those who are most disadvantaged. 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 help them share in the growing prosperity of post-Brexit Britain.

That’s why we will shortly launch a new Housing White Paper to boost supply, tackle the increasing lack of affordability, and so help ordinary working people with the high costs of this most basic of necessities.

It’s why we will shortly publish a Green Paper to put forward our approach for a modern Industrial Strategy, setting out our plans to encourage growth, innovation and investment and ensure that as we aim to increase our overall prosperity – that prosperity is shared by people in every corner of our country.

It’s why as part of building a great meritocracy I have already outlined plans to increase the number of good school places so that every child – not just those who are fortunate to have parents who can afford to move to a good catchment area or pay to go private – can enjoy a school place that caters to their individual interests, abilities and needs.

So with all these steps we will deliver this new agenda of social reform. And government will step up to support and – where necessary – enforce the responsibilities we have to each other as citizens, so that we respect the bonds and obligations that make our society work.
This means government supporting free markets as the basis for our prosperity, but stepping in to repair them when they aren’t working as they should.

It means standing up for business as a great driver of prosperity and progress, but taking action when a minority of businesses and business figures tear away at the social contract between business and society by working to a different set of rules from everyone else.


It means creating an environment in which our charities and social enterprises can thrive – but responding when a small minority pursue inappropriate and unacceptable fundraising practices.

And it means not being ambivalent about the efforts of all those who give their time, money and expertise in the service of others; but recognising, supporting and championing those who lead the way in shaping a civil society that can bring the talents of so many in our voluntary sector to bear on some of the great social challenges that we face together.

That is why I have continued the important work that David Cameron began through the Points of Light programme, using the office of Prime Minister every day to recognise an outstanding volunteer in Britain whose service can be an inspiration to us all. It is why we are making National Citizen Service a rite of passage for every young person in Britain and supporting all those brilliant organisations in the Prince of Wales’ IWill campaign who are encouraging our young people to give their time in the service of others.

And it is why we will continue to lead the way internationally in the development of social finance to harness the full potential of our charities and social enterprises in working with business and government to tackle some of the biggest social challenges in our country.

This is the new approach – the new philosophy – that we need in Britain today. An approach with fairness and solidarity at its heart.

And as we reflect on – and implement – the result of the referendum, we must recognise that we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to deliver the change that people need.

An opportunity because Britain is going through a period of great national change, and as we do so we have a once-in-a-generation chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

A responsibility because a failure to take this opportunity to show the ability of mainstream, centre-ground politics to respond to public concern would further entrench the very divisions we seek to overcome.

For we know what happens when mainstream, centre-ground politics fails. People embrace the fringe – the politics of division and despair. They turn to those who offer easy answers – who claim to understand people’s problems and always know what – and who – to blame.

We see those fringe voices gaining prominence in some countries across Europe today – voices from the hard-left and the far-right stepping forward and sensing that this is their time.

But they stand on the shoulders of mainstream politicians who have allowed unfairness and division to grow by ignoring the legitimate concerns of ordinary people for too long.

Politicians who embraced the twin pillars of liberalism and globalisation as the great forces for good that they are, but failed to understand that for too many people – particularly those on modest to low incomes living in rich countries like our own – those forces are something to be concerned, not thrilled, about.

Politicians who supported and promoted an economic system that works well for a privileged few, but failed to ensure that the prosperity generated by free markets and free trade is shared by everyone, in every corner and community of their land.

Politicians who made the deals and signed the agreements that changed the nature of their country, but failed to listen to the public’s concerns – dismissing them as somehow parochial or illegitimate instead.

The result of this consensus – this way of conducting politics – has been to bring us to a place where all the old certainties are called into question.

People are questioning whether the system of globalisation, free markets and free trade – one that has underpinned so much of our prosperity – is actually working for them.
When they lose their jobs, or their wages stagnate, or their dreams such as owning a home seem out of reach, they feel it is even working against them – serving not their interests or ambitions, but those of a privileged few.

And they are questioning the legitimacy of all the old institutions and systems we have relied on for decades. They have seen a small minority in the banking and business sectors appearing to game the system and play by their own rules. They have watched Parliament dragged into a row about political expenses, the media mired in questions about phone-hacking, a system that allows lawyers to get rich by hounding our brave troops.
And they come to a simple conclusion: that there is one rule for the rich and powerful and another for everyone else.

This is dangerous for it sows division and despair as the gap between those who are prospering and those who are not gets ever larger, and resentments grow.

And it emboldens the voices of protectionism and isolation who would tear down all we have achieved and take us back to the past.

So our responsibility is great. It is to show that mainstream, centre-ground politics can deliver the change people need. That mainstream, centre-ground politics can respond to public concern. And that a mainstream, centre-ground government understands what needs to change and has a plan to set things right.

And that’s why this Government has a plan, not simply to manage our withdrawal from the European Union, but to take this opportunity to fundamentally change Britain for the better.
A comprehensive, wide-ranging plan for the kind of country we want to be. A plan to build a country where wealth and opportunity are shared; where all of us, no matter what our background, play by the same rules; and where future generations enjoy the same opportunities from which their parents have benefited throughout their lives.

I will say more about this plan in the coming weeks. I will talk more about our plans for economic reform, our plans to build a Global Britain and our ambitions to build a more united country.

But at the heart of the plan is a commitment to building a fairer society and tackling the burning injustices that have been allowed to stand for too long.

And I want to turn to one of those burning injustices in particular – the burning injustice of mental health and inadequate treatment that demands a new approach from government and society as a whole.

Let me be clear: mental health problems affect people of all ages and all backgrounds.

An estimated one in four of us has a common mental disorder at any one time.

The economic and social cost of mental illness is £105 billion – roughly the same as we spend on the NHS in its entirety.

And for children – one in ten of whom has a diagnosable condition – the long term effects can be crippling: children with behavioural disorders are four times more likely to be drug dependent, six times more likely to die before the age of thirty, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.

We all know someone – a family member, friend or colleague – who is directly affected by mental health problems. But while people talk about parity of esteem – and it was a Conservative-led Government that legislated for it – there is no escaping the fact that people with mental health problems are still not treated the same as if they have a physical ailment – or the fact that all of us – government, employers, schools, charities – need to do more to support all of our mental wellbeing.

As Home Secretary I was determined to take on the grave injustices concerning mental illness that were within my remit – and I made improving the police response to people with mental health needs a top priority.

And I am delighted that we have taken great strides forward in reducing the number of people suffering a mental health crisis who end up in a police cell, for want of somewhere else to go.

Since 2011-12, there has been an almost 80 per cent reduction of such incidences across England – so more people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act are rightly being taken to a health-based place of safety, rather than being held in a cell.

And for children and young people the reduction is comparable, and through the Policing and Crime Bill I personally introduced, this practice will be abolished entirely for under 18s from this spring.

This proves that innovative reforms that challenge the established way of doing things can improve the response to mental illness.
Now as prime minister I want us to go further. I want us to employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society, and at every stage of life.

For years the only people who have stood up for those with mental ill health have been civil society groups and charities. Now I want us to build upon your success and the fantastic work that many including those here today are doing.

Organisations such as Mind who have led the way in helping those experiencing mental health problems. The Heads Together campaign – and the fantastic leadership shown by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – that aims to break the stigma surrounding mental health problems. And the tremendous campaigning work by Black Mental Health UK – with whom I worked at the Home Office – to expose injustices in the way black people with mental ill health in particular are treated, and ensure politicians take action to put things right.

So you are leading the way – but today I want us to forge a new approach recognising our responsibility to each other, and make mental illness an everyday concern for all of us and in every one of our institutions.

What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental health problems at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.

This starts with ensuring that children and teenagers get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, it can blight lives, and become entrenched.

There is, for example, evidence to suggest an increase in self-harm among young people, with the number of 16-24 year old women reporting self-harm increasing threefold – to one in five – between 2000 and 2014.

And we know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over 1 in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

So first, we will introduce a package of measures to transform the way we respond to mental illness in young people starting in our schools.

We will pilot new approaches such as offering mental health first aid training for teachers and staff to help them identify and assist children experiencing mental health problems. And we will trial approaches to ensure schools and colleges work closer together with local NHS services to provide dedicated children and young people’s mental health services.

These steps will accompany a major thematic review – led by the Care Quality Commission with input from Ofsted – looking at services for children and teenagers across the country to find out what is working, and what is not.

Following this, CQC and Ofsted will consider how their future joint programme of inspections can ensure Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are properly held to account for performance.

And alongside these reviews, later this year we will bring forward a new Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health to transform services in education and for families.

These measures will build on the work we are already doing to put a stop to the untold misery of hundreds of children being sent halfway across the country to access mental health services.
By 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to be treated for a general mental health condition.

But treatment is only part of the answer. We must look at what more can be done to prevent mental health problems, and work with you to capitalise on the crucial role civil society has to play in helping young people – and indeed people of all ages – build resilience.

Second, I want us to do more to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. So I have asked Lord Stevenson, who has campaigned on these issues for many years, and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, to work with leading employer and mental health groups to create a new partnership with industry, and make prevention and breaking the stigma top priorities for employers. Because mental wellbeing doesn’t just improve the health of employees, it improves their motivation, reduces their absence and drives better productivity too.

We will also review employment discrimination laws for employees with mental health problems to ensure they are properly supported.

And we will do everything we can to get the right support to those with mental health problems who are out of work. For example, through our global leadership on Social Impact Bonds – which drive investment in social outcomes – we are already providing up to £50 million to support those with mental health issues back into work and to help local areas tackle the link between drug and alcohol dependency and co-existing mental health problems.

Third, I want to ensure more people get the support they need, when they need it, in their communities. So we will make up to £15 million of extra funding available for community clinics, crisis cafes, and alternative places of safety to support a wider range of preventative services in the community, and ensure that charities, churches and community organisations can access funding to run them too.

And we are already investing over £10 million to support the fast track Think Ahead programme – which aims to increase the number of high-calibre mental health social workers – by at least 300.

Fourth, we will rapidly expand the treatment available by investing £67.7 million in digital mental health services. Online therapy has the potential to transform the way mental health services are delivered by allowing people to check their symptoms, be triaged online and receive clinically-assisted therapy over the internet much more quickly and easily, assuming it is clinically appropriate. These treatments have been tested in other countries and they work. In the right cases, they can offer access to treatment far quicker than traditional services.

Fifth, we will right the everyday injustices that those with mental illness encounter – starting by examining GP forms relating to mental health and debt. Because sometimes those whose illness has resulted in debt, or means they are struggling to pay their debt, have to prove their mental ill-health to debt collectors and pay their GP to fill in a form to do so. Such a process can worsen both mental illness and financial difficulties, so we will work with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to consult on these forms, with a view to ending the practice.

And finally, today we are publishing a strengthened cross-Government Suicide Prevention Strategy, which sets out a comprehensive plan to reduce the suicide rate in this Parliament, and targets those most at risk such as young and middle-aged men, those in contact with the criminal justice system and those in the care of mental health services. Because, on average, 13 people kill themselves every day in England, and if we want to improve the life chances of current and future generations, we need to address this shocking reality.

And in addition to all this we will ensure that the NHS itself takes the steps it needs to ensure that parity means just that: parity. We will hold the NHS leadership to account for the extra £1 billion we invested in mental health last year. We will make sure that mental illness gets the attention it deserves, in funding, research and technology investment. And we will be clear that when NHS leaders are redesigning services and developing new local solutions, mental health should get its full weighting.

As I have said these are just the first steps in our plan to transform our approach to mental health in this country. Meeting this challenge will take years and require more than government action alone – it will need a sustained effort on the part of everyone in this room and everyone across society.

But this is a historic opportunity to right a wrong, and give people deserving of compassion and support the attention and treatment they deserve. And for all of us to change the way we view mental illness so that striving to improve mental wellbeing is seen as just as natural, positive and good as striving to improve our physical wellbeing.
For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society. Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the attitudes we hold and the values we share.

I remember the reaction when, back in 2012, Charles Walker and Kevan Jones spoke in Parliament about their own personal challenges with mental illness. The courage of these two MPs – Conservative and Labour – to speak out in this way, encouraged us all to put aside party differences and come together in solidarity.

That sense of solidarity will be essential in helping us to transform the support we offer those with mental health conditions and to defeat the stigma that makes addressing this issue so much harder than it should be. But I also believe that in a wider sense, that commitment to strengthening the bonds we share as a union of people, can be a defining part of how we meet the great challenge of our time and bring our whole country together.

It is by tackling the injustice and unfairness that drives us apart and by nurturing the responsibilities of citizenship that we can build that shared society – and make it the bedrock of a stronger and fairer Britain that truly does work for everyone.

And you can listen to James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman discussing the speech here:

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