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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 16:53 GMT
Blair 'warned' on race inequality
Tony Blair
Mr Blair faced a grilling from senior backbenchers
Tony Blair has been accused of ignoring warnings over "unacceptably high" deprivation among UK ethnic minorities.

Labour's Phyllis Starkey told MPs "gross" inequality was a factor in the recent French riots.

And there was evidence from the social exclusion unit of similar problems in the UK, she told a committee of MPs.

Mr Blair said Labour had a "good" record on social cohesion and Britain's race relations were "at least as good" as anywhere in Europe.

'Not complacent'

Asked about evidence some minorities still had far worse housing, education and employment prospects, Mr Blair said: "I am not sure there is a great deal more we can do, except to put significant investment into those communities.

"And to try to make sure, for example, in the New Deal we place particular emphasis on helping people from those parts of the city and those groups that have been most disadvantaged."


He said the government's record on social cohesion had been "a good one" but added "I am not the slightest bit complacent about it and I don't hold us up as an example of something where nothing can go wrong."

He told the committee of senior backbenchers: "It would be odd to look back on this government's record over eight years and say we haven't put a lot of money into...inner city regeneration.

"But there are another set of issues which aren't just to do with money, but are to do with communities feeling isolated from the mainstream which are to do with how we reach out into those communities."


Mr Blair said the government was addressing inequality through better education and schemes such as Sure Start and the New Deal for the unemployed.

He conceded there was a "strong case for us doing more" to provide access to rented accommodation for disadvantaged groups but there was "always a limit on resources".

It was important to spend existing funds on eliminating some of the competition between ethnic groups for social housing.

But he said public spending alone was not the answer and there were "very deep-rooted problems and they are not going to be solved within a few years of policy-making".

"I would say... that Britain provides at least as good a model of integration as most other European countries," Mr Blair told the MPs, but said he would listen to "radical ideas" to speed the process up.


He also stressed that not all ethnic minorities suffered the same kind of disadvantages.

"This is not all ethnic minorities that are in this position," he said. "It is specific ethnic minorities and we need specific policies for them."

Mr Blair was asked whether he had been in contact with his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, about the lessons to be learnt from recent race-related riots in large cities around that country.

He said he had not personally spoken to Mr de Villepin about the issue, but that contacts had been made on an official level to offer whatever assistance Britain could provide.

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