Opinion: ‘Little platoons’ march on

The past few months have brought a series of distressing statistics to the public’s attention. Child poverty has risen by 100,000 in the past year and Unicef reported that our children have the lowest levels of well-being in the Western world. Yet this has come as no surprise.

The reason that I founded the Centre for Social Justice is that I believe government policy in tackling poverty is all wrong. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown believe that very expensive state-led, top-down initiatives, which are often short-term and highly reactive, will tackle poverty in the UK. This approach does not recognise the realities of deep, persistent poverty and has done little to unlock the cycle of deprivation.

It was a visit to the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow that made me realise how bad life has got for those who have been left behind. Family breakdown is at record levels: more than 1.3 million 16- 19-year-olds are unemployed, more than 1.5 million children are brought up by addicts and 25,000 children leave school every year without a single qualification.

I believe that we need to tackle the underlying drivers of poverty: family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, failed education, serious personal debt.

What underpins all of our work is a commitment to strengthening civil society rather than the state. Community breakdown is worst in communities where family breakdown is highest. At the heart of a strong community that cares for all those who live there, are strong families. For too long the state has turned a blind eye to the damaging effect on society of the growing number of dysfunctional families.

We will also support the invaluable work being done by the third sector. One only needs to visit the Eastside Young Leaders Academy in Peckham or the Lighthouse Group in Bradford to see the inspirational work that is being done by social entrepreneurs and the third sector.

George W Bush describes them as “little platoons” and their inspirational work has provided real hope that we can reverse social breakdown by rebuilding the welfare society. It is in this spirit of hope and optimism that we have set about developing policy solutions that will help us move away from 20th century welfare towards a 21st century ­vision of welfare that is characterised by strong families and strong communities.

Iain Duncan Smith MP is former leader of the Conservative Party. In 2003, he founded the Centre for Social Justice and he was appointed Chair of the Conservatives’ Social Justice Policy Group in 2005

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