The voluntary sector has responded swiftly to Tony Blair’s speech on social exclusion today.
“Early intervention will help families break the cycle of exclusion but it must be done in a way that does not stigmatise.
“The government must realise families need support to change, not to be punished because they are struggling,” said Clare Tickell, chief executive at NCH, the children’s charity.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
“The underlying causes of many of society’s problems can be traced back to child poverty and, although government is making progress, there is still a long way to go to meet the prime minister’s pledge to end it by 2020. Tackling child poverty is as important as addressing the needs of those with complex, multiple problems,” said Lord Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Best added: “We welcome the emphasis the prime minister is placing on support to children at an early age. As with the excellent Sure Start initiative for pre-school children and their families, support needs to be available through mainstream service providers, including the voluntary sector, with greater emphasis on reaching out to the most marginalised families with effective and carefully tailored help.
“We would be concerned if the dominating theme for parenting policy was one of compulsion, labelling those participating as future troublemakers. Targeting families on this basis could prove self-fulfilling if it stigmatises the child.
“Compulsion can undermine efforts to extend help to hard-to-reach families by singling them out.”
National Children’s Bureau
The National Children’s Bureau urged Blair to promote the importance of lead professionals in supporting vulnerable children and families.
NCB says it has pioneered the development of key workers and lead professionals to support families with disabled children, and believes this approach could usefully be extended to other vulnerable groups.
“Vulnerable families need one lead professional steering them through the maze of services,” said NCB chief executive Paul Ennals. ‘This could benefit a wide range of children, young people and families who might otherwise lose out.
“Children in care, for example, can find themselves lost in a big complex system. A lead professional with control over a budget could make the kinds of decisions that an ordinary parent would naturally take.”
Council for Disabled Children
Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “Parents of disabled children can find that they spend much of their life trying to co-ordinate the actions of a wide range of professionals, all trying to help,’ she said. “In areas that have introduced a lead professional, with the power to co-ordinate and to purchase some services, children receive a better service and families feel better supported.”
Mental health charity Mind gave a cautious welcome to the speech.
Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, said: “It’s encouraging that the government recognises that people with long-term mental health problems often experience social exclusion.
“To really beat the problems of people with poor mental health, it’s crucial that the government make a genuine and long-term commitment to tackling stigma and discrimination. The current anti-stigma campaign is woefully underfunded.
“While the Scottish executive has given proper support to its anti-stigma campaign, there has been little such government commitment to anti-stigma campaign in England.
“While there’s no doubt that employment is very important, and something that most people on incapacity benefit with long-term mental health problems aspire to, even if their health problems were to be resolved it is unlikely that they would find it easy to gain work. Survey after survey has shown that employers routinely discriminate against people with a history of mental health problems.
“Improving access to mental health services is crucial. But we must avoid framing this in purely economic terms. People have a right to access mental health services for their own wellbeing, not just for the good of the economy. Yet, currently, access to the most basic recommended therapies is desperately inadequate in much of the country.
“Of course, we already know what the problems are. The Social Exclusion Unit produced its detailed report on mental health and social exclusion over two years ago. The difficult bit is putting the theory into practice, and ensuring that people with mental health problems are genuinely understood and catered for in reformed public services.
“Talk of “rights and responsibilities” is seductive, but it disregards the fact that at the moment, people with mental health problems all too often lack the power to exercise rights that most of us take for granted.”
Chartered Institute of Housing
Chief Executive David Butler said: “This will require a greater commitment to joined up working across government and between institutions and organisations that has bedevilled this sort of initiative in the past.
“It is also important that any new commitment to working with individual families sits alongside, and is not at the expense of, ongoing support for communities and neighbourhoods.”