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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, I would not have suggested that the Government have failed. I believe I said that their success on that had been relatively less evident than in other areas.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that comment. We all recognise that we must start at the beginning and Sure Start has been our waya novel and successful wayof bringing services together in circumstances where young parents, parents in multiple deprivation and children who do not know how to play because their parents do not know how to enable them to play are most vulnerable. That is a model for so much that we are trying to do.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for revealing the record of the Government on foster care. We can do more. I shall write to him in greater detail, but he knows that next year we shall undertake consultation on the fostering allowances. For the
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moment, I shall leave it at that. We have followed through Sure Start with a range of programmes that build motivation and self-esteem and encourage success in school, prevent truancy and encourage young people to stay on. Yes, we are not getting it absolutely right. There is a great deal more to do, but we have seen significant improvement in those areas that enable children to access the curriculum for life, which is numeracy and literacy. We have done that through the education maintenance allowance. It has encouraged more people to stay on.
I believe we are making progress. I take the point about meritocracy and it is quite right, of course, that after hundreds of years of failing to recognise the value of vocational training, we are now extremely serious about the standards that we expect. We have tackled the poverty of skills. Many people in our society have been out of work for many years and we have brought back into work 2 million more people, helped by economic stability. We have also targeted work-focused training and support, bringing back the most complex and difficult people. The New Deal for skills, for example, has helped people to progress, helping us to meet our skill demands. Noble Lords will know of the work that we are doing on incapacity benefit.
On the poverty of age, we have a good record. There are fewer pensioners in poverty now because of the pension tax credit. Between 1996 and 2003, 1.9 million people, including 1.3 million women were lifted out of low income, but through supporting people, for example, we have also been able to direct more targeted help. Those policies expose the kind of social exclusion that is sometimes hidden, as my noble friend Lady Greengross said. The poverty of age involves complex poverty issues, which are not simply concerned with lack of income but lack of visibility in our society. As a government, we are proud of tackling some of the most visible and severe barriers of social inclusion. At one time, rough sleeping, or the use of bed and breakfast for homeless families seemed to be impossible problems.
However, we are not complacent. Noble Lords have pointed to the number of groups that are socially excluded for various reasons. We estimate that there are still about 3.6 million socially excluded people in our society today, whether they are the constant victims of crime, living in temporary accommodation, not working, or have low literacy skillsI have some figures about the number of ethnic minority groups that access literacy skills, but I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Chan, as it is a complex picture. The problem is that many of these people are the same people. They are the groups to which we are addressing most of our attention and they are our great challenge. These groups are concentrated in areas and neighbourhoods that create further complications.
Where do we go from here? There are things that we have to do: we have to build up our evidence base; we have to join up our services more effectively; we have to look at what is genuinely innovative and at what is working; and we need to identify the most persistent causes and the extreme consequences of exclusion. That is what the Social Exclusion Unit of the ODPM
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is doing, and we are grateful for the excellence and authority of its work, which many noble Lords have mentioned. Among other things, it has been looking at the ways in which we can improve lives through improving services. I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Henig for the wealth of examples she provided of services in the voluntary and statutory sectors being joined up. That illustrates that social exclusion cannot belong to, or be the responsibility of, any one department. I shall give a few recent examples of genuinely innovative joined-up services: we can all celebrate children's trusts; the National Community Safety Plan has set out plans to sustain the 35 per cent drop in crime since 1997; and our new Together We Can initiative is running across communities.
On health, we now have the Choosing Health delivery plan. Health inequality is one of six key delivery priorities and is integrated across government. In social care, we have seen many important changes in relation to supported housing. Through the Supporting People initiative, vulnerable people have been able to live independently in ways that they could not do in the past.
Turning from joining up services to innovation, time is too short to tell noble Lords about the range of things that are happening, but we are drilling down and addressing the root causes of inequalities.
My noble friend Lady Howells, in her powerful speech, raised the question of why some people act out of racial hate. We cannot answer that question this afternoon; perhaps we will never be able to answer it. But she was right to prioritise the importance of education because leaving school with confidence, decent skills and qualifications is the key. She challenged me to identify a successful programme for attainment by Afro-Caribbean boys. We have tried many initiatives to raise attainment by children in disadvantaged groups. For example, the Excellence in Cities programme is focusing time and attention on behaviour and attendance problems. In individual programmes, such as Knowsley Plus One Challenge, we are using new technology to keep in touch with such children by e-mail and to get latecomers and absentees into school. Essentially, the answer lies in excellent teaching and learning for all children in our classrooms rather than in specific programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Chan, and my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya asked me about employment opportunities for ethnic minority groups. There are some interesting initiatives on this. For example, I refer them to the Fair Cities programme in Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Brent where boards work with local employers and stakeholders on city-wide strategies to tackle ethnic minority worklessness. We are evaluating that. I think that it will take us a fair way forward in understanding what prevents people getting work.
In terms of health, my noble friend Lady Morgan gave us a very authoritative account and a very graphic description of inequalities progressing down the Tube
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line. I thought that was extraordinarily helpful, as was what she has said about cancer, which is not something we may associate with socio-economic differences.
We have set ourselves very challenging targets for reducing inequalities, both in infant mortality and life expectancy. We will not achieve those unless we take the public health agenda seriously. That means everything in the public health agendafrom smoking through to teenage pregnancy and the alcohol reduction programme, which we are committing resources to, particularly in relation to young people.
With the Spearhead Group we are focusing on the areas with the worse health and deprivation and bringing together all our skills and knowledge in the health offer we make. In the ODPM we are working in particular ways to bring three factors to this analysis and these policies. We are responsible for the social exclusion project and are concerned about area and place. However, we will never be able to deliver what we want to, whether it is in health or education, unless we understand the effects of area and place and the way that deprivation is mediated through those 88 communities in our country which present the most complex and stubborn combinations of poverty, ill-health, lack of work and homelessness. That is what we in ODPM are focusing on. We are doing it in a way which brings together all the local teamsfor example, through the local area agreements and through national programmes, which we are feeding into the neighbourhood renewal areasand we are working with the Treasury, the DTI and local enterprise and so on.
Let me say something to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about elderly people. I am delighted about this. It is completely fortuitous, and I can assure the House that this was not planted. She mentioned that she would like to see a Sure Start for older people. That is precisely the sort of thing that we are now working on with the Social Exclusion Unit, to bring together, in the way that we have succeeded with young people, the range of services and access points for elderly people that we think will make a major difference.
So, across government, we seek to improve outcomes for all disadvantaged groups in deprived areas. Yes, we are using floor targets. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that I am sorry about the jargon. It has taken me some time to work out what floor targets are. They are a means of measuring progress because national targets in these areas of a complex and local situation do not really work. They miss the point. So you have to take something where you can measure distance travelled. That is one explanation for that. Part of that argument deals with promoting social cohesion and pro-social behaviour.
I turn again to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. Local government has a role to play because the comprehensive performance assessment is currently looking at how well councils are promoting social cohesion. So again we are making progress on our understanding and methodologies of working.
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I entirely take the point the noble Baroness made about strong local government. Within strong local government we haveand I know that she is supportive of thisfocused on the local, neighbourhood level where poverty is at its most acute. We have done so through neighbourhood management, neighbourhood wardens and neighbourhood policiesnot least in places like Hull where neighbourhood wardens work with Help the Aged to identify and support elderly people and youth wardens work to identify and support young people. We are finding new ways of reaching and dealing with some of these very stubborn problems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked me particularly about the report on youth justice. We are doing a great deal to improve the state of youth justice. We have announced funding for targeted youth crime prevention programmes. I shall write to the noble Baroness with more detail because there is quite a lot to say about that.
This has been a splendid debate. There are a few things I want to say in conclusion. Part of the challenge is creating mixed communities in place of the concentrations of deprivation and monolithic estates that we have had in our country for too long.
We must address the question of whether our targets and incentives are focused on the right people. We will do that, not least with the help of the SEU. We must ensure that we are spending government money where it is needed and most effective. We must ensure that our services are both personal and joined-up. We also need to ask whether we are helping people to solve their own problems. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, we are not in the business of doing things to people; that does not work. I return to the notion of citizenship, because we must convince people to be engaged and responsible for their own improvementwhether they are parents supporting their children, adult learners or responsible for their own health, in relation to smoking, or whatever in their skills development. We will succeed only if we can convince people that they are right to be confident about what they can achieve and that the Government are behind them in achieving that.
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