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Hutton warns Brexit vote reveals state of broken Britain

Words: Huw Morris
Broken Britain / iStock-863259732

The wholesale decentralising of economic decision-making to cities, towns, nations and regions is needed as part of a package to tackle broken Britain, according to a leading political economist and social commentator.

The Brexit vote shone a light on how England has become economically and socially broken, said Will Hutton, author of the seminal The State We’re In and chair of the Big Innovation Centre’s steering group.

Seven out of 10 of the poorest areas in northern Europe are in England and all of them voted for Brexit, while Wales is eighth and Northern Ireland ninth, he added. Per-capita incomes across these areas is as low as in the Mississippi Delta, or Romania and Bulgaria.

Hutton told the Institute of Economic Development annual conference, held in London on 6 December, that all 30 areas identified by the Social Mobility Commission as the worst “cold spots” for social mobility voted to leave the EU, with 21 of them backing Brexit by 60 per cent or more.

Those living in disadvantaged areas are suffering a health crisis with a 165 per cent rise in the prescription of antidepressant drugs in England between 1998 and 2012. In Blackpool, 331 anti-depressant prescriptions per 1,000 people were made in 2012/13, while in the London Borough of Brent the figure was 60 (71) per 1,000.

“This is the ‘shit life’ syndrome,” he said. “Brexit was not a vote for a global Britain or to take control but a vote by a fearful, neglected and marginalised population that wanted to give the London elite and David Cameron a well-aimed kick.”

Alongside decentralised powers to counter-act these trends, Hutton called for a new style of UK capitalism in which “public benefit companies” are required by law to declare their purpose in their constitutions and how they are pursuing social, environmental and public objectives, with asset management industry required to take their responsibilities and long-term stewardship seriously.

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