Blair: Why we must help those excluded from society

The Prime Minister writes exclusively for The Independent on the Social Exclusion Unit which is launched today.
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New Labour was created so that we became the party of all the people; so that we could win power with the purpose of rebuilding Britain as one nation and giving everyone a stake in society. Yes, we are the party of Middle Britain, but if we don't raise the standard of living of the poorest people in Britain we will have failed as a government.

The Social Exclusion Unit, which I am launching today, will be at the heart of government, with the remit of co-ordinating our assault on poverty and social exclusion. Social Exclusion is about more than just financial deprivation. It is about the damage done by poor housing, ill-health, poor education, lack of decent transport, but above all the lack of work.

It is the better-off who often say the way to deal with poverty is to hand out more in benefits. Those on benefits do not ask for sympathy; nor do they want to be trapped on benefits which, even if increased, are never going to give them real security. They want opportunities and the chance to earn a decent living.

Our policy will be not be just to shell out money when things go wrong but to invest now to prevent poverty and social exclusion happening. It will ensure that problems are solved across departments and in ways that make life easier for recipients. For the key point about the unit is the recognition that all of these problems are linked. Poor education means a poor job. A poor job often leads to poor housing. Poor housing and poor jobs make it harder to bring up a family. So members of the unit will be drawn widely - from business, police and the, voluntary sector with a range of experience of dealing with poverty, truancy, homelessness.

This unit will embody a core new Labour value: "community" or "one nation". It is a belief that we achieve more together than we can alone. That each person no matter what their background should have the chance to succeed.

Our contract with the people was about opportunity and responsibility going together. Already the new Labour government has put in place the most radical policies for a generation to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

That is a big claim but I believe it is justified. The biggest-ever programme to get the young and long-term unemployed back to work; pounds 300m going into the first- ever national child-care strategy, VAT on heating cut and pounds 50 to help all pensioners on income support with their winter fuel bills, housing benefit and section 11 funding cuts reversed, capital receipts released to build homes for the homeless, pounds 4bn into health and education with money targeted at the poorest areas; 6 million given the chance to save for the first time, and soon Britain's first-ever statutory minimum wage.

This is a programme that tackles head-on the causes of poverty and exclusion. So the idea that this government is the same as the last one, is nonsense.

But we must do more. I have asked them to focus on three big problems as a start. Poor housing estates, the problems of children expelled from schools or who are truant; and street homelessness. These I believe are the most pressing of the immediate problems. Politics, page 8