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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 May 2006, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Minister to target poor families
Two youths
The prime minister wants an action plan on social exclusion
Plans to help less well-off families before they develop major social problems have been outlined by a government minister.

New social exclusion minister Hilary Armstrong said one million people were cut off from society in the UK, with three million more at risk.

She stressed the importance of preventing problems.

"We need to concentrate much more on prevention instead of picking up the pieces of damaged lives," she said.

"It's the right thing to do and if we don't do it we all end up paying the price."

I think the government's intentions are really good but I hope this doesn't turn into a Mickey Mouse ministry
Camilla Batmanghelidjh
Kids Company charity

Ms Armstrong was speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Sunderland.

She said that as overall living standards rose, the focus had to shift to the "invisible" minority who had been left behind.

"As the tide of poverty and disadvantage has been decisively turned back, those who are the most excluded stand out even more starkly," she said.

"It seems that while we have succeeded in improving the lot for the vast majority... there are a small minority, who often remain largely invisible to public services, who have been left behind."

Earlier she told the BBC that families with young children would be part of the focus of her new Cabinet role.

She told the Today programme: "If we intervene earlier, if we actually do manage to work with families when the children are very young, and then we can actually identify how to take them in a different way, how to let them get engaged in a different way.

"There is this almost intractable group that are not getting anything from school and not getting into training and not getting into jobs."

Volunteering push

Tony Blair wants the new Cabinet committee on social exclusion to publish an action plan by the Autumn.

Its key priorities will include improving outcomes for children in care, cutting the number of teenage pregnancies and helping people with mental health problems back into work.

Mr Blair also wants an expansion of the role of charities and voluntary organisations in providing public services.

Poor skills
Low incomes
Poor housing
High crime
Family breakdown
Source: Social Exclusion Unit

Guy Palmer, from the advisory group the New Policy Institute, has disagreed with the government's approach.

"Inequality is still rising in this country and is higher than it is elsewhere," he told the BBC.

"The government's approach is to do things to help the people at the bottom but not to change the nature of society to make it more equal in the first place."

Camilla Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charity Kids Company, said the government must make sure the necessary funding is in place for the social exclusion minister to do her job.

"I think the government's intentions are really good but I hope this doesn't turn into a Mickey Mouse ministry," she told the BBC.

Penny Nicholls, from the Children's Society, said future governments would need to continue projects to ensure there is "long term planning that's going to eradicate social exclusion".

Hear about some of the plans

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