Page last updated at 23:42 GMT, Sunday, 14 September 2008 00:42 UK

UK must 'avert social collapse'

A man and a woman walking with a child
It's cheaper to step in before problems begin, says the report

The main UK parties must unite around policies that will "avert social collapse" caused by rising violent crime and disorder, say two senior MPs.

Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Labour minister Graham Allen are calling for more support for early intervention schemes in communities.

They say more work is needed to improve the life chances of poor children.

The government runs early intervention schemes, but the two MPs say policy failures span three decades.

Life chances

Their report will be published jointly on Tuesday by two think-tanks: the Centre for Social Justice which is chaired by Mr Duncan Smith; and the left-leaning Smith Institute, set up in memory of the late Labour leader John Smith.

It will call for agreement from all parties on the importance of projects designed to bolster the life chances of children who are living in deprivation, from the moment they are born.

[Young children] arrive at nursery school unable hardly to speak or relate to other children without resorting to violence
Iain Duncan Smith

Such schemes - some of which already exist - shore up young families and can "halt the slide to delinquency", say the MPs.

Unless concerted action is taken, they warn that Britain will be "saddled with a new generation of disturbed and aggressive young people doomed to repeat and amplify the social breakdown disfiguring their lives and others around them".

Mr Allen, MP for Nottingham North, says in the report: "We talk from very different political traditions, but our conclusion was that policy failure reaches across all parties and across 30 years of government.

"Polarised thinking will not provide the basis for the long-term sustainable policies needed to bring about intergenerational change."

Mr Allen said he and Mr Duncan Smith shared "contempt for the cheap thoughtless soundbites of the party political dogfight, be they from Labour ('hug a hoodie') or Conservatives ('Asbos on embryos')".

In a joint foreword to the report, called Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens, the MPs say: "We are convinced it is cheaper and more sensible to tackle social problems before they begin."

They said government alone could not resolve the most serious social problems, adding that many of the most successful interventions were introduced by the voluntary sector.

Iain Duncan Smith, Graham Allen
Different politics, same aims, say the MPs

Mr Duncan Smith writes that the "creeping expansion of the underclass" is sucking "decent" families into the "code of the street".

He cites research suggesting that on more and more council estates, anti-social behaviour is regarded as the norm, and is spreading.

Mr Duncan Smith also warns that council estates are increasingly becoming a ghetto for the poor, dominated by low-income, single-parent families living on benefits.

"Young children suffer life-long damage in a world where they sit in front of the television all day, encounter constant anger and shouting, and witness their mothers being abused by a boyfriend.

"They arrive at nursery school unable hardly to speak or relate to other children without resorting to violence."

"And once they fall behind their peer group, they are all too often on a slippery slope to social exclusion, crime or drugs. It costs far more to help a teenager who has become entrenched in this kind of disadvantage...than it would to stop him or her falling behind in the first place."

Long-term research

Mr Allen's Nottingham constituency is home to the UK's first "early intervention" city, which in April launched measures to stop its poorest children from drifting into crime.

Projects include nursing help for teenage mothers, and children being taught how to discuss their feelings and about the danger of drugs.

Mr Allen - who chairs the project - said they wanted their party leaders to support such programmes across the UK.

The two MPs urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron to endorse further moves, including:

• Promising to pursue early intervention policies in their party manifestos.

• Setting up a long-term research study to compare groups of children with and without early intervention

• Pledging to create a National Policy Assessment Centre to examine and recommend the best early intervention policies.

They have also called on central and local governments to host an Early Intervention Leader's network in the UK, and said the policy should be at the heart of the government's next review of public spending.

The Treasury should find a way to release more funds now to finance schemes that would ultimately achieve "massive" savings in the future, they added.

Keeping teenagers out of trouble
15 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Youth crime plan targets families
15 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Early warning for bad behaviour
18 Mar 08 |  Education

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