A line up of government ministers - Hilary Armstrong, Beverley Hughes, Patricia Hewitt, Ruth Kelly and Pat McFadden - launch “Reaching Out” - Action Plan on Social Exclusion at the Bromley By Bow Centre in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets
This phrase kept entering my mind whilst listening to presentations from a line up of government ministers, Hilary Armstrong, Beverley Hughes, Patricia Hewitt, and Ruth Kelly and Pat McFadden. They were launching the “Reaching Out” - Action Plan on Social Exclusion at the Bromley By Bow Centre in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets on a day that is now associated with retribution - the 11th September.
Before the launch got underway the ministers, joined by local councillors, had a chance to meet the children, parents and workers at the centre. The Bromley By Bow Centre, established in a year with other associations – 1984, promotes itself as pioneering in the services they provide; entrepreneurial development and support to other organisations in a part of London that is historically associated with poverty and hardship - so an interesting choice of venue to launch an ‘Action Plan’.
The action plan primarily sets out the government’s policy to radically improve the lives of the most disadvantaged and alienated communities. Although it is weighted in the early and developing years it also aims to address adult years – referred to as ‘a lifetime approach’ of preventative methods to avoid expensive cures.
“Evidence has also demonstrated that individuals from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are at a greatly increased risk if the most acute combinations of problems”
The report states that it is the end result of intense research into the problems and practice existent in the UK as well as in other countries, drawing parallels and lessons towards developing a new policy and effective programmes. It goes on to say that “…the report does not identify which interventions work best, but it can be used to test whether existing interventions are cost effective and who should be targeted…”
Each Minister’s ‘departmental remit’ is reflected in the report; Social Exclusion, Health, Community Development. Interestingly the approach followed is one of cross departmental and lateral thinking that not only opens up issues (and habits) of where women are ‘located’ in the decision-making process but is a good opportunity to observe the impact women politicians can have on the rigidity of government. Thankfully these women have extracted themselves out of the narrowness of policy forming ghettos by introducing wider considerations; such as the impact of the economy, conflicting cultural practices, entrenched habits have on the quality and relevance of people’s lives into the argument.
The report methodically approaches the big problem of social exclusion by delineating five principles:
The first point ‘Early intervention’ would seem to extend the principle work of the Sure Start programmes that works closely with families with babies and very young children. ‘Establishing a system’ suggests that government departments are conscious of the level and quality of ‘outputs’. There is criticism emanating from a concern that nothing has changed regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem. This point is underlined in the ‘snakes and ladders’ image that is on the reports cover. I was concerned to hear reference to ‘Improved co-ordination of a myriad separate agencies…’ which suggests that the government is continuing a policy of ‘outsourcing’ rather than re-establishing representative ‘accountable’ bodies – a shift in fundamental political ideology. The issues surrounding ‘Trusts’ and impending financial crises that could impact on implementation of the report’s recommendations was brushed aside.
However, the report is upbeat in pointing out the progress current policies have had over the past ten years in increasing employment prospects, eliminating long term unemployment, ridding poverty from 800,000 children and a million pensioners. Yet it also admits there is no room for complacency as ministers must acknowledge there is still a lot to achieve.
“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. We need to intervene a the right time…. and fit them around the needs of individuals and the services that support them to unlock their aspiration and help lift themselves out of poverty and exclusion.”
The Social Exclusion Task Force has published “Reaching Out: An Action
Plan on Social Exclusion”. The plan sets out the work across government
to improve the life chances of those who suffer, or may suffer in the future,
from disadvantage – and is published by the Cabinet Office (London).
written by Jenni Boswell-Jones
(KidsZone • London)