Britain is a divided nation as the poor are increasingly trapped in poverty and excluded from mainstream society because of their social status, the human rights watchdog has warned.

A major report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found a continued decline in prospects for disadvantaged groups has cemented a “two-speed society” in the UK which leaves many behind.

The watchdog found that in just three years “alarming backward steps” have left disabled people, ethnic minorities and children from poorer backgrounds struggling to make headway in a society where “significant barriers still remain”.

Charities accused Theresa May of breaking the promise she made in her first speech as prime minister to tackle “burning injustices” in British society.

 

It comes just days before Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is to set out a budget with critics waiting for spending commitments that will deliver on the prime minister’s conference promise that austerity is finally coming to an end.

In a speech on Thursday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell will say that schools, councils and the UK’s social care system are “crying out for investment” and called on the government to “stump up the cash”.

David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said Britain was facing a “defining moment in the pursuit of equality”.

“We’ve seen some significant areas of progress, particularly in the improvement of opportunities in education and at work, as well as the fact that more people are now engaging in politics,” he said.

 

“However, in an already divided nation, some unacceptable gaps continue to grow. Across many areas in life, the losers struggle to make headway in a society where significant barriers still remain.

“They are the forgotten and the left behind and unless we take action, it will be at least a generation before we put things right.”

The EHRC report warns that, unless urgent action is taken, the UK’s most “forgotten” groups of people are in danger of being stuck in their current situation for “years to come”.

 

It said that since its last report in 2015, disabled people had been increasingly excluded from mainstream society, with the disability pay gap persisting and disabled people facing poorer health and a lack of access to suitable housing.

The study states that welfare and tax reforms implemented since 2010 were having a disproportionate impact on the poorest in society, pushing more disabled people, ethnic minorities and women into poverty and weakening the safety net provided by social security.

Child poverty has increased, with three in 10 children now living in households in poverty, rising to over half of children in Bangladeshi, Black African, Pakistani and Other ethnicity households.

 

The report also cites a “marked backwards move” in justice and personal security since 2015, with restrictions on legal aid having severely reduced people’s ability to secure redress when their rights are breached.

In light of the findings, campaigners accused Ms May of breaking the pledge she made in her first speech as prime minister, in which she vowed to “fight the burning injustice” in the UK that meant “if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.”

 

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “The prime minister entered Downing Street with a pledge to make the country work for everyone but the EHRC report finds little evidence of that happening.

 
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“Yes we have high employment, but at the same time we also have rising child poverty. The four-year freeze on benefits and deep social security cuts have hit the budgets of low income families hard.

“The life chances of children in those families are being jeopardised yet these are the very families – the ‘just-about-managing’, most of whom work – whose interests the prime minister said would drive policy.”

Sue Bott from Disability Rights UK said: “The EHRC’s comprehensive report demonstrates what we are hearing daily; that in almost every aspect of life, the chances for disabled people are getting worse.  

 

“It is now urgent that the government looks at the cumulative impact of their policies and takes action to restore the opportunities for disabled people to be equal citizens in today’s Britain.”

It comes after a report by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) found that more than 14 million people were living in poverty in the UK, based on a new measure of financial hardship which considers the impact of “inescapable” costs such as childcare and disability.

The research showed that of the total figure, 7.7 million people were living in “persistent poverty”, meaning they had spent all or most of the last four years or more in poverty, while 6.9 million were living in families with a disabled person.

The government has been approached for comment.