MINISTERS have insisted the Government is committed to tackling inequality after the entire board of the Social Mobility Commission quit in protest at the lack of progress towards a "fairer Britain".

Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who heads the commission, said he had "little hope" the current Government was capable of making the changes necessary to deliver a more equal society.

He was joined in walking out by his three fellow commissioners, including the Conservative former cabinet minister Baroness Shephard.

The resignations are a major setback for Theresa May who entered No 10 promising to tackle the "burning injustices" that hold back poorer people.

In the latest 'state of the nation' report published last week, West Somerset came 324th out of 324 districts in England for social mobility. This means a child from a disadvantaged background stands less chance of getting a good education and going on to get a good job than anywhere else in the country.

READ MORE: West Somerset remains worst place in England to grow up poor

Downing Street said the departures came after Mr Milburn - whose term as commission chairman expired last July - was told that a new chairman was to be appointed and that an open application process would be held for the role.

In his resignation letter, Mr Milburn said the preoccupation with Brexit meant the Government "does not have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality".

He added: "I have little hope of the current Government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain.

"It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation."

Appearing on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Milburn said his reappointment for a second term was backed by Education Secretary Justine Greening but she had failed to prevail in Whitehall.

"I have decided I am not going to reapply for the job and frankly neither are the other three commissioners," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

He added: "There is only so long you can that you can go on pushing water uphill.

"What is lacking here is meaningful political action to translate very good words into deeds. In the end what counts in politics is not what you talk about, it is what you do.

"What is needed is really clear leadership to translate perfectly good words into actions that will make a difference."

Ms Greening refused to be drawn on whether she had fought for Mr Milburn's reappointment.

"He has done a fantastic job but his term had come to an end. I think it was about getting some fresh blood into the commission," she told The Andrew Marr Show.

Ms Greening denied that the Government lacked the will to tackle inequality, but admitted that more needed to be done.

"What we are doing is a transformational series of policies across government to drive equality of opportunity," she said.

"In my own area, we have set up opportunity areas working inside and outside schools in communities to improve education results. If you look at the school standards overall they are continuing to rise."

She added, however: "I think there is a real problem that we need to fix. Britain is not a country where we have equality of opportunity. Where you grow up affects your future far too much. This is a generational challenge."

Here is all you need to know about the mass resignation of the board of the Social Mobility Commission.

1. What has happened?

The four members of the board of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) have quit in protest at the lack of progress being made towards a "fairer Britain". Its chairman, former Labour minister Alan Milburn, said he has "little hope" of the Government achieving the necessary change as it does not have the "bandwidth" to simultaneously deal with Brexit and improve social mobility. Along with Mr Milburn to quit was his deputy, the Conservative former cabinet minister Baroness Shephard, David Johnston, the chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation charity, and Paul Gregg, a professor of economic and social policy at the University of Bath.

2. What is the Social Mobility Commission?

The independent body was created by an Act of Parliament in 2010 to carry out research in relation to social mobility and to advise ministers, at their request, with advice on how to improve mobility. Its annual report sets out the commission's views on the progress being made towards improving social mobility in the United Kingdom. The commission also works to promote social mobility in England among groups including employers and the educations sector.

3. What has the commission done in the past?

Home ownership for young people, grammar schools, unpaid internships and unfair interview dress codes in the City of London are among the issues analysed by the commission. It delivered its fifth 'state of the nation' report at the end of November, in which it warned of Britain is in a "spiral of division", with London providing greater opportunities for the disadvantaged than coastal, rural and former industrial areas which are "left behind economically and hollowed out socially". Mr Milburn said the divisions laid bare by the Brexit vote must be tackled or there will be a rise in far-right or hard-left extremism.

4. Who is Alan Milburn?

For more than seven years, Mr Milburn has held positions that will have given him an insight into social mobility issues facing Britain. The 59-year-old was one of a series of prominent Labour figures to be taken on by the coalition government in advisory roles in 2010, when he was appointed as an independent reviewer on social mobility. A Labour MP for Darlington between 1992 and 2010, Mr Milburn held several ministerial positions including health secretary and chief treasury secretary under Tony Blair. He was appointed chairman of the commission in July 2012.

5. What has Theresa May and the Government said?

Standing on the steps of Number 10 as she took office in July 2016, the new PM promised to create "a country that works for everyone". She told the country: "When it comes to opportunity, we won't entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you." On Sunday, a Government spokesman said it is "making good progress with social mobility" including increasing the national living wage, cutting income tax for the lowest paid and doubling free childcare. "We accept there is more to do and that is why we are focusing our efforts in disadvantaged areas where we can make the biggest difference," the spokesman said. The spokesman said the resignations came after Mr Milburn - whose term as commission chair expired last July - was told that a new chair was to be appointed and that an open application process would be held for the role.