Friday 14 June 2019 2:01 am

The next Prime Minister must be more than a one-trick Brexit pony

The starting gun has fired and Boris Johnson is far out ahead in the race to be the next leader of the Conservative party.

Brexit is of course everyone’s priority, but a new report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) reminds us that there are other pressing challenges for the incoming Prime Minister to tackle.

The research looks at how stalling growth has affected the population, and the results are stark.

“Real median income growth was essentially zero in 2017-18,” one author writes, pointing to how wages have failed to keep pace with inflation despite an improvement in recent months.

This impact is not evenly felt. Between the years 2016-17 and 2017-18: “total net household income fell by one per cent for the poorest fifth of the population, was unchanged for the middle fifth and grew by one per cent for the highest income fifth over the year.”

With an unscheduled General Election in the next year looking ever more possible, the next Tory leader can be sure that Labour will seize on these figures as evidence that the Conservatives have left the poor behind. He (for the two female candidates have been eliminated) will need a policy platform to encourage growth at all levels of the economy.

And there’s more. In the same week that the BBC provoked outrage – from the public and the government – for announcing that free TV licences for over-75s would now only be offered to those claiming pension credit, the IFS research shows that the greatest increase in medium income since 2007 has been enjoyed by society’s eldest.

“For pensioners aged 65 and above, average income since 2007-08 has grown by over 18 per cent,” notes the report; for those aged 31-49, it is barely above pre-crisis levels, while for millennials between 22 and 30, it still hasn’t fully recovered.

Addressing intergenerational inequality and finding a sustainable solution to the social care crisis must both be top of the agenda for the next inhabitant of Number 10.

And while he is working on that, he should take a look at regional inequality too.

The Treasury is today launching an inquiry into regional imbalances in the economy, seeking to “identify the disparities” and explore “how best to level the playing field”.

It is gathering evidence until 2 August, just after the new Prime Minister can expect to take office. It is likely that transport links, including the much-debated HS2, and housing shortages will both be high on the to-do list too.

This leadership contest may be being fought on the UK’s relationship with the EU, but Britain needs more than a one-trick Brexit pony.

Is Johnson up to the task?

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