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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006, 10:13 GMT
'Breakdown Britain'
Iain Duncan Smith
Poverty can only be defeated if government works more effectively with the voluntary sector and the public in addressing its root causes
Iain Duncan Smith

The economic growth of recent years means our country is richer than ever. Many would have expected poverty to have been defeated as our nation became wealthier.

Unfortunately this has not happened.

"Breakdown Britain", the interim report of the Conservative Party's Social Justice Policy Group, shows that in spite of all the government's spending, relative poverty is getting worse, not better.

This is manifested in appalling rates of family breakdown, educational failure, welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction and indebtedness.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, these five "pathways to poverty" reinforce and entrench each other.

People sleeping rough
Sleeping rough is still a big problem

Labour trumpets its supposed success of taking 2 million children out of poverty, even though the government's own statistics show the true figure is a more modest 700,000.

It is true that vast sums have been spent through tax credits in moving people who are just below the poverty line (60% of median income), to just above it.

However the exclusive focus on this one measure of poverty has not been wise. Why?

Forgotten

Firstly, those in severe poverty have been left even further behind.

The Government's approach is similar to some head teachers worried about exam results whose schools focus on ensuring that those who are borderline for achieving 5 A*- C GCSEs reach that mark.

Meanwhile, those at the bottom are quietly forgotten about.

Our report conclusively proves that there are 750,000 more people in severe poverty (below 40% of median income) than a decade ago.

Particularly vulnerable groups including the acutely disabled find themselves in this category. A large section of society is becoming completely detached from the rest of us.

Indifference

Men sleeping rough
Many people suffer multiple deprivations

Gordon Brown's obsession with this one measure of deprivation also does not take into account the breadth of poverty.

Many of the families receiving tax credits that take them over the poverty line are still in desperate circumstances. What chance do the 350,000 or more children whose parents are addicted to hard drugs have to fulfil their potential?

For most people, material poverty is a consequence of other factors - including family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment and poor education.

The presence of entrenched deprivation often reflects the absence of the supporting structures and constructive relationships that help people stand on their own feet.

Labour appears indifferent to the need to strengthen these relationships.

There is a direct, causal link between the strength and health of a child's family and that child's prospects in life. Yet Government does not have courage to address the centrality of family breakdown in causing and sustaining poverty.

Second chance...

Everyone who needs it should get a second chance in life.

Man injecting heroin
Getting that second chance could mean life, not death

For example those fighting addiction to heroin should have the opportunity to get clean rather than being put on methadone and left to rot.

Government has a vital role to play in protecting the most vulnerable, but it is often voluntary and community groups that are best equipped to help people overcome addictions, get back into work or enable families to develop the relationship skills to stay together.

Poverty can only be defeated if government works more effectively with the voluntary sector and the public in addressing its root causes.

Join Jon Sopel and guests for the Politics Show next Sunday 10 December 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.


This is the last Politics Show for the autumn series - we return again on Sunday 14 January 2007, 12:00 GMT- in the meantime, from us all... have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

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