Last summer on a housing estate in south London one group of children were segregated from another group of children on a playground on the basis of their class. 

On a development required to have a mix of “affordable” units to buy and social rental units, the kids from the social housing units were blocked from using some of the shared play spaces.

“My children are friends with all the other children on this development – but when it is summer they can’t join them,” one parent told The Guardian.

“Children shouldn’t know who owns and who is renting.”

Quite right too.

As the shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities I made sure that class would be at the heart of Labour’s equality agenda – making a new ground for discrimination on the basis of socio-economic disadvantage.

Dawn Butler, second from right, with the other deputy leadership contenders: Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, Rosena Allin-Khan and Ian Murray

No-one should be denied opportunities because they went to the wrong school or weren’t born into the most well-connected families.

Excluding those children because of their parents’ class was not just morally wrong.

It’s as heinous as excluding them because they were black or Muslim.

It should be illegal.

My decision to include social class, alongside race, gender, religion sexual orientation and other identities as a category that should be protected by law, was inspired by two main factors.

The first is the growing class inequality in Britain and what that means for the strained fabric of our society.

The Labour Party was created by the trade unions to represent the interests of working-class people in parliament.

We must never forget that. 

Earlier this week the Social Mobility Commission laid bare a nation of privilege and disadvantage, stunted ambition and perceived entitlement.

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Slightly less than a half the country thought where a person ends up in society was largely determined by their background and only third felt that everyone had a fair chance to get on. 

After a decade of austerity, where Tory governments have made the poorest pay for an economic crisis caused by rich bankers and deregulation, this is exactly what you’d expect.

When you slash funding for schools, libraries, welfare and the disabled, you thwart potential.

Meanwhile real wages remain at the level they were ten years ago. 

Almost two thirds felt they’d received a better school education compared with their parents, but almost half said they had a worse standard of living, and just 29% felt they had more job security.

Working people feel either stuck, running to stand still no matter how hard they work, or as if they are going backwards.

And they are taking their kids with them.

Dawn Butler says Labour failed to explain why its manifesto was credible

Just a third of 18- to 24-year-olds said they thought everyone in Britain today had a fair chance to progress.

It’s all very well encouraging young people to work hard at school and go to university.

But the truth remains that graduates from wealthier backgrounds are more than twice as likely to start on £30,000 as working-class peers.

Meanwhile, we are building inequalities of the future.

One in three children live in poverty while UNICEF estimates that one in five now live in food insecure households, meaning they either don’t have enough money for food or a healthy diet.

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world that’s a disgrace.

The Tories make a great deal of patriotism.

Too bad they have such disdain for the people who live in it.

The second reason why I thought it was important to include class as a category was because increasingly people were trying to divide us on the basis of our race, religion and other identities.

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The far-right has tried to galvanise people with the claim that minorities and immigrants were getting one over on them – stealing their jobs, taking their houses and driving down their wages.

Back in 2001, during a period of intense racial tension, some people in Burnley thought Asians had better speed bumps. “It’s because the council are scared of them,” they said.

Unfortunately, there are some on our own side who would rather cede these toxic points than combat them head on.

Of course they do it more artfully.

Claudia Cifuentes is one of dozens of social housing residents banned from using open space in south London

They talk, in code, about defending the “legitimate concerns of the traditional working class”.

This is nothing more than divisive dog whistling.

It should go without saying that concerns about long hospital waiting times or low wages are legitimate for everybody.

It should also go without saying that blaming minorities and immigrants for those things makes no sense for anybody.

The NHS would be on its knees without minorities and immigrants to staff it and they are among the lowest paid people in the country.

In my personal experience there’s no contradiction between being from a minority and being working class.

How could there be when most ethnic minorities are working class and the overwhelming majority of them vote Labour.

We have to stop using terms like ‘traditional’ working class to mean white men and referring to our heartlands as though they don’t include areas of London and other cities with extreme poverty and some of Labour’s most loyal voters.

Because all this does is sow division and make some white men feel excluded.

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It’s all very well putting these things in a manifesto.

But it’s all just words on paper if you don’t win an election.

One of the most sobering findings of the Mobility Commission’s survey that the areas where people are most likely to feel the odds are stacked against them, are places where Labour lost seats to the Tories in December.

Just under a third of people in the North East said they felt they had a good chance to get on in life in their own region.

Given the choice between our costed manifesto promising reinvestment in health and education, renationalisation and a Green New Deal and an Old Etonian, Oxbridge graduate promising Brexit and little else, they chose the Etonian.

If ever there was proof of our complacency, failure to connect and an urgent need for a fundamental reassessment about how we operate then this was it.

We failed to persuade people that what we were offering was credible and possible.

Labour failed to “persuade people” of the merits of its policies

We also failed to frame class solidarity and our spending plans as a source of aspiration rather than just as a series of handouts.

No party is entitled to anyone’s votes.

That’s as true for the votes we lost in the Midlands and the North east as it is for the ones we still have in London and elsewhere.

When it comes to their material interests working class black and white people all over the country will always have more in common with each other than they do with Boris Johnson and Priti Patel.

Fighting for the rights of minorities, women and gay people doesn’t undermine class solidarity; it’s the bedrock of it.

We don’t need to compete with each other to see who has it hardest: sadly there’s enough misery to go around.

What we need to do is join together and take on the source of the misery.

And as John McDonnell said during my general election campaign launch, to have a working class black woman as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party would demonstrate what our party is all about.





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