Armstrong launches social exclusion plan

New measures intended to help the most “deeply excluded” members of society have been unveiled today as part of the social exclusion action plan.

The measures trailed in Tony Blair’s keynote speech last week, focus on children in care, the families of alcoholics and drug addicts, teenage parents and people with mental health problems, and include controversial measures based on “early intervention”.

The government has said the Reaching Out scheme, formally launched by social exclusion minister Hilary Armstrong and several senior ministers including communities secretary Ruth Kelly and health secretary Patricia Hewitt, aims to “improve the life chances and opportunities of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach in society”.

Last week, the prime minister argued reaching children early was crucial to prevent them going “off the rails”, but critics slammed the idea as “eugenics”, with former cabinet minister Tony Benn saying it was “the sort of thing Hitler talked about”.

Today’s plan includes measures to improve health provisions for young children by offering better training to staff such as midwives and health visitors.

It will create an individual budget for children in care to ensure every looked-after child “has someone who understands their personal needs”, and introduces measures to reduce the number of young mums.

These include targeting “teenage pregnancy hotspots” with more education and better access to contraceptives, as well as launching a national media campaign.

Children with mental health and behavioural problems will be dealt with using a pilot “family-based” approach through numerous agencies, and adults leading “chaotic lives” will receive more tailored intervention.

Since coming to power in 1997, Labour has launched a number of social exclusion measures, including Sure Start for young families. These, the government argues, have led to 800,000 fewer children and one million fewer pensioners living in poverty.

However despite improvements, the government estimates that 2.5 per cent of every generation remains “stuck in a lifetime of disadvantage” and insists these measures are intended to “extend opportunity to the least advantaged” to help them overcome “entrenched” problems.

“We have to accept that in some cases, with the hardest to reach families, with the most problems, the current universal one-size fits all approach is not enough,” argued Hilary Armstrong.

“We need to intervene at the right time, personalise our services, be more persistent and co-ordinated, and fit them around the needs of individuals if we are ever going to tackle the hardest complexities of peoples’ lives.”

“No-one should be written off – no-one is too hard to reach. I don’t believe that there is anyone who doesn’t want a better future for themselves and their children.”

Ms Armstrong insisted the action plan would help “unlock” the aspiration of individuals, “and help [them] lift themselves out of poverty and exclusion”.

However, the Conservatives doubted the effectiveness of “yet another action plan”, and the Liberal Democrats said that the policy was “too little too late”.

Charities also warned against the dangers of stigmatising families.