These have been a tough six weeks for Tories but today’s PMQs and yesterday’s statement on the Constitution show the vulnerability of Gordon Brown. Over the next few days the Tory fightback will begin in earnest. The policy review process will start to accelerate and, as just reported on BBC1’s Ten’o’clock news, the social justice policy group will present two hundred policy ideas to convert Breakdown Britain to Breakthrough Britain.
Some will approve of the report’s contents because it promises to mend a broken society and to provide hope to people with none. Others will see it as a route map to reducing the massive economic cost of social breakdown.
The social policy group has calculated that the headline cost of social breakdown is £102bn every year:
- £18bn because of educational underachievement
- £24bn due to family breakdown and
- £60bn because of crime.
It’s worth noting that the cost to society of family breakdown is estimated to amount to 40% of the cost of crime. Whilst on the face of it crime is much easier for the state to tackle than broken families, it is worth considering the huge disparity in resources devoted to the two problems.
The Tory social justice policy review under Iain Duncan Smith, Philippa Stroud and Cameron Watt has focused on:
- Low levels of well-being – see the UNICEF report on child welfare;
- Drug addiction – levels of problem addiction are twice as high as in Sweden and three times higher than in the Netherlands;
- Record levels of debt – approximately
8 million people claim to have a serious debt problem in the UK, with
British consumers twice as indebted as those on the Continent;
- Educational inequality – social mobility is worse than it was thirty years ago;
- Family breakdown – Britain still has the highest levels of divorce and lone parenting in Europe.
The solutions centre on three philosophical themes:
- Rebuilding "the welfare society"
– the care delivered by neighbours, relatives and volunteers still
dwarves that provided by the state so marriages, communities and
charities need to be better supported and not undermined by increasing
- Looking to the long-term by supporting independent citizens – by, for example, properly rehabilitating drug addicts and ensuring young people get and keep jobs;
- Reversing existing disincentives to socially beneficial behaviours – including the disincentives to two parenting and marriage.
The social justice report makes two hundred specific policy recommendations and combined with Breakdown Britain
the word count of the group’s report reaches an intimidating 600,000
words. The report is partly based on three YouGov polls of over 50,000
people, 3,000 hours of public hearings and consultations with over
2,000 relevant individuals and organisations.
In the approach there are echoes of Liam Fox’s statement, expressed in the leadership race, that Thatcher’s mission was mending a broken economy, whilst the new Conservative mission must be to fix a broken society.
The next few days will be seen as the first major broadside against Brown since he became
Prime Minister. Breakdown Britain diagnosed the problems that Brown has
exacerbated and Breakthrough Britain
promises to remedy them. David Cameron has promised to make this theme
of social responsibility the central battleground in British politics.
The full report will be published next Tuesday but the countdown to its
publication has begun.