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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK

Background: Features


The Government argues that no society can survive and prosper if it marginalises or excludes a minority of its citizens.

As ministers attempt to tackle social exclusion, the BBC's Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson looks at the issue through the lives of four individuals and reflects on the task Labour has set itself.

A tale of two youngsters

James and Kieran are two teenagers who have grown up in modern Britain.

James : 'I was dealing drugs and taking heroine...'
James is white, Kieran is Asian. James lives on the south coast and Kieran in west London.

Click here to listen to their story

The 'traditional' family

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The epidemic in family breakdown has been the most powerful social change of the last 20 years. It has created a host on new domestic arrangements.

The most common and most controversial of which has been the lone parent family.

Predominantly women looking after young children. Many, though not all are poor, many, though not all are dependent on the state.

Tracey :'People look at you to say your not as good as us'
How different is their world from the that of the more traditional family ? What is the gap that creates social exclusion ?

Click here to listen to Tracey and Claire's story

Tackling social exclusion

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Defining the problem is one thing, providing solutions is another.

The government talks about making agencies work together, reinvigorating local communities, investing in skills and training. If it all works this will become the first British government ever to eliminate poverty.

Unlike previous Labour governments this one does not believe salvation lies in higher benefits for all - indeed the route to inclusion lies in the rewards and discipline of work.

Carey Oppenheim : 'If used in the right ways social exclusion can offer more than poverty'
Carey Oppenheim of the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research supports the government's emphasis on social exclusion.

She believes that if used in the right way social exclusion can offer more than a narrow definition of poverty.

Yet finding work for all could prove increasingly difficult - even among lone parents like Tracey who are more than willing to get a job.

To succeed the government must help the Traceys of this world into work - and if she has trouble finding suitable a suitable employer it will be as nothing compared to James, the 17- year- old ex-offender from Brighton.

The task is not only to bring James back into the fold but to prevent the next generation of Jameses from emerging.

To some on the right all these lofty ambitions simply reveal a government with an inflated sense of its own importance.

Prof David Marsland :' The underclass will be handled by yet more pseudo professional alleged 'experts' '
Professor David Marsland of Brunel University believes the whole project is doomed. Nor is he any more impressed having heard that the government is planning to target money at the most deprived estates.

At the other end of the political spectrum Bob Holman a community worker in Glasgow's Easterhouse estate is equally scathing about government plans.

Bob Holman : 'It is not just poverty that harms people but inequality'
He believes talk of social exclusion distracts attention from the real issue.

And like many on the left he fears ministers have abandoned Labour's traditional commitment to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

The government has committed itself to reducing the massive inequalities in health, to ending educational failure, to making communities safer - in short to ending social exclusion.

Until now no government has achieved that much but it is against those far reaching targets that this one will be judged .

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Internet Links

Social Exclusion Unit

Truancy and School Exclusion Report by the Social Exclusion Unit

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