‘New approach’ needed on social exclusion

The government must take a “new approach” to people whose addictions or dysfunctional family life mean they will never achieve their potential, Tony Blair has said.

Labour has launched a series of initiatives to tackle social exclusion since coming to power in 1997, including the New Deal to tackle unemployment, the introduction of tax credits to help poverty and Sure Start for young families.

But today Mr Blair admitted that while for a minority of families, simply raising their income was not enough to improve their situation, citing those whose lives were dominated by drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.

In a keynote speech to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in York, the prime minister said social, health and education services must be better targeted at those who do not want help or simply do not know how to seek it.

In particular, he reiterated the case, first mooted last week, for early intervention to stop today’s toddlers becoming a “menace to society” when they grow up.

“More than anything else, early intervention is crucial.There has been great progress in our ability to spot the risk factors associated with subsequent anti-social behaviour. We also know a lot more about how to protect people against these risks,” Mr Blair said.

One third of children in care were likely to end up without any training, education, or a job; the daughters of teenage mums were twice as likely to get pregnant in their teens; and boys whose fathers went to jail were three times more likely to go to jail than others.

“The combination of risk and protection means that we can now be reasonably confident that we can identify likely problems at a very early stage,” the prime minister concluded.

He admitted the idea of intervening in people’s lives “can sound very sinister”, but stressed that in the “great bulk of cases” it simply meant providing extra support, such as parenting classes, drug rehabilitation or more time with a health visitor.

However, Mr Blair said the agencies responsible for this work were currently ill-equipped for the kind of targeted support that was needed, and he called for more cooperation between services, including pooling government and council funding.

“The problem is not that we are not trying, nor that the money is not being committed. It is that we need a radical revision of our methods,” he said.

Oliver Letwin, chairman of the Conservatives’ policy review, welcomed the focus on social exclusion – with more than a million children skipping school each year and more than a million young people not in work or education, he said it was needed.

But he noted that today’s speech, which lays the ground for a new action plan to be published next week, was the tenth attempt to deal with the problem since 1997.

“People are likely to be hugely sceptical about Tony Blair announcing yet another action plan,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats were similarly critical, and leader Menzies Campbell warned that “warm words” would do little to address the fact that social inequality was growing.