Craig, professor of social justice at the University of Hull, casts a critical
eye over New Labour’s record on tackling poverty over the past four years. In
the first of two articles, he identifies benefits as one key area where the
government could act to achieve its objectives
Labour came to power in 1997 with a commitment to address the legacy of poverty
and inequality left by the previous three Conservative governments. From the
early 1980s, economic deprivation grew to the point where about one third of
the UK population was in poverty, placing the nation at, or near, the bottom of
most league tables among developed countries. In addition, the gap between rich
and poor had widened substantially.
this context, the New Labour government’s creation of a special unit attached
to the Cabinet Office, the social exclusion unit, was highly significant.
Announcing the SEU’s establishment, Tony Blair indicated his government’s broad
strategy: the SEU would work as an inter-departmental ministerial group,
producing "joined-up solutions to joined-up problems". A raft of
specific initiatives followed, steered at a local level by partnership working,
through which agencies would be drawn together in a widening range of policy
the ambition of New Labour and the energy it has committed to tackling poverty
and social exclusion, it is appropriate, in the early stages of a second term,
to reflect on what has been achieved and what remains to be done. I do not deny
the advances made, not least to restoring poverty and social exclusion to the
forefront of national policy debate. However, to echo another of the
government’s mantras, is it working? Does this increasingly cluttered
anti-poverty strategy add up to more than a hill of beans? Is the energy
expended leading to substantial reductions in the numbers of those in poverty
or experiencing social exclusion? Are the changes sustainable? And are there
losers as well as winners?
concept of social exclusion was not a New Labour invention; the term originated
in 1950s French policy where it was used, pejoratively, to describe marginal
groups. In the UK, the term entered our lexicon as a way to distinguish the
concept of poverty and deprivation. Essentially, poverty was seen as narrowly
relating to access to material goods and income. Deprivation was a wider
concept describing other aspects of poverty such as ill-health and poor
housing, and the inability of poor people to participate in the normal life of
the community. And social exclusion described the way in which people were
prevented, by structures, processes, and mechanisms, from playing a full part
in community life. Critically, poverty was about what we have or do not have
while social exclusion was about what others do to us.
social exclusion unit has been at the heart of recent discussion about
disadvantage in the UK. It has produced a series of major reports, some of them
on specific population groups – such as 16-17 year-olds who are not in
education, employment or training; rough sleepers; and teenage parents – and
some on aspects of the government’s wider strategy for neighbourhood renewal.
Last year, the 18 policy action teams, drawing both on insiders and selected
"outsiders", and working on specific aspects of disadvantage, produced
individual studies which, with the first consolidated report, Bringing
Britain Together,1 have fed into the SEU’s latest major report, Preventing
Social Exclusion.2 An internal review of the unit’s work led to
a political decision to extend its life at least until the end of next year and
highlighted further issues which the SEU is now addressing – transport policy
and the educational achievement of children in care. Meanwhile, a similar,
though slightly more participative, strategy is being pursued in Scotland
through the Scottish parliament3 and in Wales.
focus on social exclusion was complemented by a wider agenda of social justice,
drawing on some of the ideas of the Commission for Social Justice established
by John Smith in the early 1990s, and most of all on welfare reform. However,
as was to become clear, the Blairite notion of social justice was one that
favoured equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. The New
Contract for Welfare4 (Department of Social Security 1998a) reflected
this in its agenda for reform of the social security system. This advanced the
"third way" of reform, gliding between the caricatured status quo of
increasingly generous benefits and a privatised residual future. It
"promoted opportunity instead of dependence, with the welfare state for
the broad mass of people, but in new ways to fit the modern world". This
would "widen the exits from welfare dependency by offering tailor-made
help for individuals". The reforms would be driven "by the need to
spend money in the fairest and most effective way". This came to be seen
as a euphemism for more targeting, although Blair claimed it was not
necessarily about a budget-cutting agenda. However, his claim looked somewhat
shaky as the government made two early serious political misjudgements. First
it cut lone parent benefits and then it limited pensions increases to 75p, both
moves sparking Labour backbench rebellions. More positively, the prime minister
committed his government in 1999 to "the historic aim – to be the first
generation to end child poverty" in 20 years.
most recent New Policy Institute review of government achievements in
challenging poverty and social exclusion points to an uneven picture.5
There have been improvements in education such as the attainments of 11-year
olds, the numbers achieving GCSEs, the qualifications obtained by 19-year-olds,
and a reduction in school exclusions – with greater falls among those from
ethnic minority groups. Some housing indicators have also provided positive news.
Mortgage arrears have fallen, as have the numbers of houses without central
when it comes to health, not only do inequalities remain but in some instances
– for example, mortality rates among the under-65s – the gap between
"healthy" and "unhealthy" areas has grown. This is not
simply because rates have fallen slowly in some places but because in some very
deprived areas, mortality rates – including those due to coronary heart disease
and stroke – have actually risen in recent years.
NPI commented that in 1998-9, numbers on a low income remained at a historic
high level, with more than 14 million people living in households on less than
half average income – a figure showing a slight increase on the 1996-7 figure.6
The latest DSS figures show little change to this. More worryingly, the figures
show that the gap in inequality is growing. The DSS report suggests coyly that
"overall income inequality rose slightly between 1994-5 and 1999-00".
Between 1994-5 and 1998-9, income growth after housing costs was 10 per cent
for the poorest 10 per cent but 13 per cent for the richest 10 per cent – a 30
per cent relatively larger rate of growth for the richest compared with the
pay in Britain, even among failing companies, is much higher than in mainland
European countries. The richest 10 per cent within the UK now earn 27 per cent
of all income, and the proportion taken by the poorest 10 per cent has fallen
to less than 3 per cent. Comparisons between the richest 5 per cent and the
poorest 5 per cent make even more depressing reading. Just over 60 per cent of
all people have incomes below the national average – another indicator of
persisting inequality, reflected not only in the traditional north-south
divide, but within and between cities, towns, and regions. Acute poverty still
exists amid plenty.
relatively straightforward way of addressing poverty and inequality would be
raising benefit levels in real terms for the poorest. Another would be
introducing a more progressive taxation system and replacing the disgraceful
loans-based social fund – which continues to impoverish the poorest people.
However, it was not benefit levels that lay at the heart of the government’s
welfare reform programme, but work. And by the arrival of the second New Labour
government, it was institutionalised, with the replacement of the DSS by the
Department for Work and Pensions.
to the attack on worklessness were the New Deals aimed at moving workless
targets – 18-25 year-olds, lone parents, long-term unemployed, disabled people
– away from "dependency on benefits". Although the government has
made much of its claim that it met its own self-imposed goal of getting 250,000
young people back into work through the New Deal, a closer look at these figures
also gives a less rosy picture. Of the 380,000 young people placed in jobs
since the New Deal began, only half have entered sustained and unsubsidised
jobs. Given that a sustained job merely means a job lasting more than three
months, those still in jobs six or 12 months after the New Deal experience are
likely to be even fewer. For many, these unsubsidised jobs will bring little
security and a salary not much more than the minimum wage. Here, the government
has made some progress with the introduction of a minimum wage and its
upratings, although it is still too low and discriminates against young
by the government that it is responsible for overseeing the highest employment
rate since 1975 are less credible, however. Not only are many of these new jobs
characterised by low pay and insecurity, but New Labour has benefited from a
prolonged economic upturn over which it has had little influence . New Labour
has also done little to change low and unequal pay for women and ethnic minority
groups, even among employers such as the NHS where it can control employment
indicates that the New Deal operates in some areas in ways that disadvantage
those with limited aptitudes. Local managers have tended to "filter"
applicants so those with least skills end up in the environmental task force,
whether or not that is where they wished to go. It is likely these will be
young people who need the most support – for example, those with limited
disabilities who may end up moving in and out of jobs on the margins of the
labour market. There are also significant numbers of 16 to 17-year-olds who
have left school and are not in education, employment or training, to whom New
Labour has refused to restore social assistance benefit support. Research to be
published early next year suggests the numbers of these may have been
underestimated, that the new Connexions service may not be well-equipped to
re-engage them, and that members of certain ethnic minority groups may be
substantially over-represented among the "disappeared".7
and ethnicity comprise another area where the government’s political
inconsistencies have been sharply exposed. On the one hand, its response to the
Macpherson report on Stephen Lawrence’s murder8 was relatively swift
and uncompromising, although doubt as to how effectively the Race Relations
Amendment Act 2000 will be policed remains. However, the government itself has
given a poor lead in terms of its attitude to ethnic monitoring, and the
welfare state as a whole remains riddled with racism.9 Some ethnic
minority groups, particularly those of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and African
Caribbean origins, are up to four times as likely to be in poverty as the
population as a whole. Yet the government remains unwilling to draw obvious
connections between this fact and the anger felt by young men within many of
SEU has only very latterly begun to address race in its analyses.10,11
The Home Office has responded to the marginalisation of the black and ethnic minority
voluntary and community sector with specific funding streams for
capacity-building, but research into local governance shows how marginalised
ethnic minority groups remain.12 Support for ethnic minority groups
may be seen as an indicator of growing government awareness of the extent of
racism within societal structures. However, this awareness is compromised by
another government attitude – its shameful victimising of refugees and
asylum-seekers, which is exploited by much of the UK media – and subjects
people to an increasingly racist immigration regime before entry and, following
entry, to a voucher scheme that stigmatises and impoverishes.13
Ironically, the government’s own research shows that there is a net economic
benefit of about £2.6 billion per year to the Treasury from in-migrants,
including refugees and asylum-seekers.14
government’s welfare reform programme was also situated in the wider framework
of a "modernisation" agenda, spreading across all aspects of health
and welfare and including local governance, the work of social services
departments, and the NHS. This agenda is beginning to bear down on local
government at the same time as are responsibilities to lead the vast and
increasing range of new, top-down, social policy initiatives. These
responsibilities – for education, health and employment action zones; Sure
Start; community safety; crime and disorder; teenage pregnancy; community legal
services initiatives; Better Government for Older People; learning and skills
councils; the Children’s Fund; and the overarching local strategic partnerships
– create considerable strains and undermine attempts at the sensitive
development work required to make partnership meaningful.
government acknowledges the central role of powerful public and private
agencies in creating social exclusion. It also recognises the need for those in
poverty to play a strong role in responding to that exclusion. This role is
also rhetorically recognised in nods towards bottom-up solutions to
neighbourhood renewal. However, the government’s anti-poverty strategy contains
within it one major flaw – the absence of any serious debate about the adequacy
of benefit levels, an issue that will achieve a higher profile if unemployment
levels climb again.
Craig’s analysis of social exclusion policy continues next week.
‘I feel excluded’
Lewis feels trapped. Clair, who uses a wheelchair, can’t get in and out of her
first-floor flat without assistance, writes Rachel Downey. She cannot take her
five-year-old daughter Molly to the small garden at the bottom of the stairs
without help, so her partner Phil has to be there. And because the flat is
small and crowded with furniture, Clair cannot use her wheelchair inside.
"Sometimes Molly is like a caged animal in here. We cannot even go out for
a long walk because my partner cannot manage the two of us."
has Graves’s disease, a condition of the overactive thyroid that can lead to
muscle wasting. She also has another, undiagnosed, condition. Her health
problems began when she became pregnant with Molly, who is deaf.
family is at the top of the housing list for a transfer, but there is little or
no wheelchair-accessible accommodation available. Clair is not prepared to move
from the area, as Phil’s family live locally and provide support for Molly.
They cannot move too far anyway as Molly is just about to start the school of
their choice close by.
situation is so bad that Clair and Phil have considered living separately as it
would be easier to find suitable accommodation for Clair separately from Molly.
"We don’t want to split our family up. But I want to get in and out of my
own house. And I get frustrated and we all get frustrated, and I started to think:
‘if I removed myself, would it relieve the problems to some extent?’. It
wouldn’t – it would just make another problem.
are at risk – it’s just so frustrating."
is threatening to take legal action against the council if it does not find her
living is a struggle. Using her benefits, Clair employs a personal assistant
for 16 hours a week. But she finds that the responsibility and the three
monthly audits drain her limited energy supply, which she tries to reserve for
her daughter. "All my energy goes on looking after Molly." Her
personal assistant’s time is used to get her out once a week to do the food
do feel trapped. I do feel excluded," she says. "I feel excluded from
the local community. I do not know my neighbours."
‘My life hasn’t improved’
Ledingham lives with her three children, aged 12, 14 and 15. Her youngest son,
Mark, has behavioural problems, is violent and aggressive.
Mark was six months old, Babs separated from the children’s father. She was
suicidal, was diagnosed with depression and her mother-in-law looked after the
children for four months, writes Rachel Downey.
it weren’t for the drugs, I would kill the wee ones," she says. "The
drugs and the depression make me tired. I’m zonked all day long." She has
"explosions", smashes up her flat and smacks Mark.
her mother-in-law has looked after the children. Once they were placed in a
children’s home – the plan was they would stay six weeks but they ended up there
for 10 months.
recently asked social services for help with Mark and they have arranged for
him to use a befriending service. And the family uses a residential unit run by
Altogether For Dignity (ATD) Fourth World, a charity that works with disadvantaged
everyone else on her estate, Babs is in debt to the official loan company,
which charges extortionate interest. However, she is planning to clear her
debts by April and has joined a credit union.
on the estate means the family’s flat was done up. But it wasn’t done properly
and there is still damp in Babs’s bedroom. She has asthma.
physical improvement to the estate has not improved life for Babs. "The
gang fights are getting worse. I’m frightened to go out by myself at night.
They get into fighting because there is nowhere for them to go. They take drink
or drugs and then they cannot go into the youth club."
of her friends are dead because of heroin, sniffing gas, or suicide. "My
best pal died. She left an 11-month-old we’an. I swore I would never touch
drugs when I saw him crawling under her coffin."
far as Babs is concerned, any attempts by the government to improve her life
have made no difference. "My life hasn’t improved. The government are only
interested in the ones that have money."
she has clear suggestions of what would help: "The government could put
more money into families. I have had contact with social workers for more than
10 years. First there was money for things, but now there’s no money for
about the future? "I never think that far ahead because I do not want to
be here anyway. Every week I talk about killing myself."
1 SEU, Bringing Britain Together: a
National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, Social Exclusion Unit, TSO, 1998
2 SEU, Preventing Social Exclusion, Social Exclusion Unit, TSO, 2001
3 Scottish Executive, The Policy Framework for Tackling Poverty and
Social Exclusion in Scotland, Scottish Executive, 2000
4 DSS, A New Contract for Welfare, Cm 3805, Department of Social
5 C Howarth, P Kenway, G Palmer and R Miorelli, Monitoring Poverty
and Social Exclusion, New Policy Institute, 1999
6 DSS, Households Below Average Income, 1999 -2000, Department of
Social Security/TSO, 2001
7 L Britton, B Chatrik, R Coles and G Craig, Missing Connexions,
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (forthcoming)
8 William Macpherson, The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Stationery
9 G Craig, Race and Welfare, inaugural lecture, University of Hull, 2001
10 G Craig, “Race and New Labour”, in G Fimister (ed), An End in
Sight, Child Poverty Action Group, 2001
11 SEU, Minority Ethnic Issues in Social Exclusion and Neighbourhood
Renewal, Social Exclusion Unit, TSO, 2000
12 G Craig, M Taylor, S Monro and M Wilkinson, Trust or Contract?,
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, forthcoming
13 C Boswell, Spreading the Costs of Asylum Seekers, Anglo-German
14 S Glover et al, Migration: an Economic and Social Analysis, Home
P Alcock, G Craig, K Dalgleish, and S Pearson, Combating Local Poverty,
Local Government Management Board, 1995
2 P Alcock, C Barnes, G Craig, A Harvey and S Pearson, What Counts? What Works?
A Framework for the Evaluation of Local Government Anti-Poverty Work,
Improvement and Development Agency, 1999
3 G Borrie (chairperson), “Social justice: strategies for national renewal”,
Report of the Commission on Social Justice, Verso, 1994
4 D Gordon et al, Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, Joseph Rowntree
5 SSIN, Inclusive Communities, Scottish Social Inclusion Network, 1999
6 J Stein, “The community legal service: justice for all?”, Consumer Policy
Review, Vol 11, No2, March 2001
7 D Gordon and P Townsend, Breadline Europe, Policy Press, 2000
8 SEU, Rough Sleeping, Social Exclusion Unit, TSO, 1998
M Waite, Perspectives on Social
Exclusion, New Politics Network is at www.new-politics.net
The social exclusion unit’s website is at www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/seu/
where government reports and information on projects can be viewed
The UK National Plan on Social Inclusion 2001-03 can be found at www.scotland.gov.uk/library3/society/uk_en.pdf
Information on work on social inclusion in Scotland can be found at www.scotland.gov.uk/socialjustice/
silent scream: protecting abused children who can’t speak out
are many reasons why abused children are unable to articulate their needs.
Psychotherapist Sue Richardson discusses how we can learn to help them communicate,
and how we can listen to them more effectively.
was a breakthrough in the recognition of child sexual abuse. It changed the
face of child protection. Yet professionals who attempt to engage with abused
children still have a difficult task. The voices of many children and their
advocates continue to be silenced. The existence of a children’s commissioner,
helplines, and other initiatives such as Quality Protects have no practical
meaning for children like Victoria Climbie who cannot speak out. For children
who can articulate their needs, such initiatives can bridge the gulf between
them and the system. For the silenced ones, the gulf may be increased.
a seven-year-old seen in a sexual abuse project, described the topsy-turvy nature
of this world: "The train is going too fast for the coaches and they are
derailed, but the train says to the coaches: ‘You have got to be braver than I
am’." Martin saw himself as the derailed coaches not being helped by the
train: the child protection system.
the post-Cleveland era, two conflicting versions of reality have developed. The
first version is embodied in legislation, procedures, and initiatives such as
Quality Protects. It holds that conflicts of interest between parents and
children can be reconciled and are best responded to via family support and a
reduction in the number of child protection investigations and registrations.
It fails to differentiate mothers from fathers and abusive from non-abusive
parents. It focuses on children whose abuse usually comes to light because the
child has been able to help the system by making a disclosure and taking part
in an investigation. This minority of children who can disclose their abuse
spontaneously has been defined as Group A.1
Children Act 1989, along with Department of Health guidance on Working
Together, the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their
Families, and the Memorandum of Good Practice all assume that, except for children
with an obvious disability, children in need can be enabled to communicate as
if they belong to Group A. For example, the Children Act assumes that the
wishes and feelings of the child can be ascertained. Working Together addresses
communication difficulties only in respect of disabled children. The Framework
for Assessment requires a level of engagement in the process with, and by, the
child. The Memorandum (currently under revision) provides short, inflexible
time-scales for investigative interviews. Similarly, safeguards endorsed by
Quality Protects, such as complaints procedures, only benefit children who can
articulate their concerns.
second version of reality holds that the majority of abused children are
actively silenced by abusing adults, cannot easily get over the hurdles of the
investigative and legal systems, and need adults to speak on their behalf.
conflicting constructions of reality are encountered throughout Europe. They
result in controversy and high-profile cases such as Cleveland, Oude Pekela
(the Netherlands), the case of Notary X (Belgium), and the Rohm case (Denmark).
The integration in Europe of responses to children who present with a high