In a lengthy speech in north London on Monday, the prime minister listed a raft of measures aimed at improving the life chances of those who are “left behind”, as he makes an attempt to tackle social problems before leaving office.
His programme includes bulldozing council estates, giving £1bn to the National Citizens Service providing voluntary work for teenagers, more funding for mental health services especially for new mothers and people with eating disorders, a “help to save” scheme to encourage budgeting, and parenting classes.
When challenged about how his strategy was compatible with cuts to public services and welfare, the prime minister argued there was “no conflict” between his aims.
He also claimed that reducing poverty was not all about the amount of public money spent on tackling the problem. “Of course money has a role to play... but simply focusing on that misses the point,” the prime minister said.
Cameron also said he believed Britain no longer had such a problem with “material poverty” but action was needed to address “paucity of opportunity”.
He said he supported the free market but it was important to recognise that a rising tide of prosperity does not lift everyone up and some are left behind. “To really defeat poverty, we need to move beyond the economics. We need a more social approach and a richer picture of how social problems combine and reinforce each other, how they manifest themselves and how the opportunity gap gets generated. We need to think big, to be imaginative and open ourselves up to new thinking,” he said.
Charities largely welcomed Cameron’s aims but highlighted the damaging actions of his government that will contribute to poverty.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, drew attention to the government’s plans to slash in-work benefits under the new universal credit system and its decision to scrap its definition of child poverty.
“Research evidence shows overwhelmingly that low family incomes damage children’s outcomes yet the government is planning to cut universal credit for low-paid working parents – in much the same way as it wanted to cut tax credits for hard-up working families. And unless the welfare reform and work bill is amended, the UK won’t even have a target for reducing income poverty.”
Cameron’s speech also came on the day of the government’s housing bill, which includes measures to sell off council homes and end the right to lifetime tenancies. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “Selling off homes and pushing people out of the communities they have grown up in is tantamount to social cleansing, ripping the hearts from communities where people have lived and belonged for many years.”
Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, said much of what the prime minister was announcing on mental health was not actually new. “Where there is any additional investment in mental health, it will be much needed to repair the damage done over the last five years,” she said.
The lengthy speech on social policy marks Cameron’s return to some of the ideas he spoke about before becoming prime minister, such as trying to turn around “broken Britain” and creating a big society.
At the Conservative party conference in the autumn, he said he was in a hurry to bring in measures that addressed deep-rooted poverty, reflecting the fact his premiership has so far been characterised by the battle over the economy.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th January 2016 14.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010