Blair too quick to wield the big stick

Afriend of mine is buying a house with a garden in Croydon in
suburban south London. In her jubilation, she would probably add
several exclamation marks to that sentence. For five years, against
the odds, she has put her life back together, living in a former
council flat on an inner London estate. Whenever she or her sons
have given their address, she says, they have been prematurely
judged. Nothing changes.

Other “bad” neighbourhoods have now been revealed by the
Neighbourhood Renewal Unit in the latest indices of multiple
deprivations. The unit has a new tool, “super output areas”. These
divide the country into 32,482 neighbourhoods – SOAs – with
populations of between 1,000 and 3,000.

So, now we know that Chorleywood West in Hertfordshire is allegedly
the closest you’ll get to heaven on earth. Its residents have above
average good health, university degrees, homes that they own and
lots of jobs. They also experience little crime. According to one
resident, “a spirit of gentility” rules.

Depressingly, Liverpool, Knowsley, Tower Hamlets, Hackney,
Middlesbrough and Hull all have SOAs, putting them among the most
deprived areas in the country – as they were 10, 20, 30 years

It is to be hoped that, in future, the graduates of Sure Start,
extended schools and children’s centres will break the mould. But
such schemes need to be hugely expanded. At the same time, the
government must seriously consider whether, if it is elected for a
third term (when a narrow majority may severely restrict its
action), many of its positive policies, starved of funding, will be
further undermined by an increasingly coercive attitude to

Identification, referral and tracking, proposed in Every Child
Matters, raises many concerns, for example. Will it mean that whole
neighbourhoods consist of “flagged” children, adding to the stigma
of the estate on which they live? If basic provision – social
services, counselling support, parent groups and child guidance –
continues to be understaffed and poorly funded, what good will
flagging really do, apart from demonising a child at an even
earlier age?

We know that turning around communities takes time, flexibility,
and significant resources – more than the government appears to
acknowledge. It would be a tragedy if Tony Blair’s domestic legacy
is gradually reduced to the image of the disciplinarian state
taking an ever thicker stick to families who won’t “behave”.

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