THE divide in Britain between rich and poor is wider than at any time since the Second World War. That is the shocking conclusion of the National Equality Panel in a report published this week which says that Britain is a nation riven by class “from cradle to grave” and that the distinctions begin to develop when children are only three years old. This conclusion follows a report on access to the professions by the former Labour minister Alan Milburn last year which said that the “UK's professions have become more, rather than less, socially exclusive” and that “birth not worth has become more key to life chances”. By referencing the Second World War the National Equality Panel underlined that the failure to achieve any significant social mobility in Britain in more than 60 years cannot be blamed primarily on one or the other of the two parties which have been in government since then. In recent memory John Major talked of “making Britain a classless society” and Tony Blair declared that “the Britain of the elite is over”. But society itself seems not to have the will to develop the classnesses and commitment to equal opportunity that is to be observed in many other comparable countries. The result is a nation losing its edge because its professions are not sufficiently open to new ideas and assumptions.