There has been a great deal of coverage in the media about the detail of my social justice policy group’s report and I’m grateful to ConservativeHome for covering some of our recommendations over recent days. Throughout the work on this report I have been determined to follow the evidence. There have been no prejudgments and no attempt to limit recommendations to what might be deemed politically acceptable. We have taken three thousand hours of evidence from over two thousand groups. We have emphasised contact with people and groups who have a deep understanding of the problems associated with this breakdown. We have also visited inner city communities across the UK and in a number of other countries.
Beyond the individual policy ideas I thought ConservativeHome readers might be interested in a few big picture observations.
First of all there is the basic truth that Britain is currently losing the fight against poverty. Despite Britain’s huge tragic combinations of family breakdown, addiction and educational failure mean that many people are leading lives without hope and many communities are as broken today as they have ever been. The cost in human misery is enormous. The cost to taxpayers is extraordinary, too. Britain spends £104bn on the NHS every year. We estimate the cost of social breakdown at nearly as much; £102bn.
This leads me to my second observation. I have committed the last few years of my political life to this project because I am a one nation Conservative. I am offended by the divisions and poverty of 21st century Britain but I also know that we will not be spending taxpayers’ money wisely until we get on top of this problem. Social breakdown is the leading cause of the growth in the size of the state. Money that is currently being spent picking up the pieces of broken Britain could be aiding the very sick or the very disabled. It could be invested in our schools or transport infrastructure. It could even be given back to hard-pressed taxpayers.
Three: Britain needs to combine two different understandings of how to
fight poverty. The traditional laissez-faire approach understands
poverty as a product of wrong choices – wrong choices about family,
drugs, crime and schooling. That view says that poverty is always the
fault of the person who makes the wrong choices. On the other side of
the political divide the elimination of poverty is seen as the job of
government. Government is blamed for poverty. The approach outlined
in the Breakthrough Britain report is based on the belief that
individual people must be responsible for their choices but that
government has a big responsibility to help people make the right
choices. Government should therefore support marriage and support
initiatives that encourage debt-free and drug-free behaviours. ‘Shared
responsibility’ is the name that David Cameron gives to the approach.
The fourth idea is that the welfare society is usually better than the
welfare state. The welfare state offers standardised care to everyone
and it has an important role but it’s only in the welfare society that
every person in need is an individual. They may be a child benefiting
from the love of a parent. They may be a lonely, frightened pensioner
who is visited every day by a concerned neighbour. They may be an
addict who is being mentored by someone who has overcome drugs
themselves. I know that the welfare society is alive and well in
Britain today. Every year my Centre for Social Justice awards the best
examples of effective poverty-fighters. I also know that these
effective poverty-fighters are overloaded with bureaucracy and they
would spend money much more effectively than most government-run
welfare projects. They provide people in poverty with a second chance.
The nation of the second chance is the nation I hope we will build. A
nation that never gives up on any individual or any community. All
across Gordon Brown’s Britain there are too many communities where hope
has died. Our ideas on pioneer schools, drug rehabilitation and
freedom for the charitable sector will start to change that. The road
to social justice is a road that will require the leadership and
determination of a whole generation but it will be worth the effort. I
am delighted that Conservatives are now leading the way.