Parliament: New Deal: Blair: Literacy is key to war on poverty

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR renewed his vision of a "one-nation Britain" yesterday, pledging to build a coalition between the "haves and the have-nots".

The Prime Minister, who announced new measures to help the homeless this week, said a crucial feature of his strategy to eradicate poverty would be the tackling of basic literacy and numeracy problems. From next year, the Government would make available free computers to poorer, socially excluded areas in Britain in an effort to boost information technology skills in different parts of the community.

Mr Blair, addressing the annual general meeting of the Centrepoint charity in central London, said he wanted to build a country with shared values, combining opportunity and responsibility to and from each person. "The fundamental shift I've worked all my political life to bring about is this: to build a new coalition in British politics between those who have and those who have not; between those who know the necessity of strong economic and business competence; and those with a strong sense of compassion and obligation to others.

"In a phrase, it is to reunite the economic and social parts of political motivation. That is what I mean by one nation politics. I am a one nation politician. This is a one nation government and I want it to be judged as such," he said.

Mr Blair said that it was vital to the Government's ambitions to alleviate poverty, that it tackles poor literacy and numeracy, not just among the younger generation but through the whole community.

"After more than a century of universal education, seven million people - over a fifth of the working age population - are functionally illiterate, much worse than in most other western countries. That is why I announce today that we will mobilise the whole machinery of welfare to put this right."

Mr Blair said that help would be extended to participants in the spin- off New Deal programmes which help the older unemployed, the spouses of the unemployed, the disabled and other such groups.

"We are already introducing the systematic screening of literacy and numeracy problems for every young person entering the New Deal, to be followed up by quick remedial action," the Prime Minister said.

"During the next year this approach will be extended to the other New Deals. In time, quick assessment and help needs to be part of the modernised welfare system, available to everyone who needs it.

"We also need to help with IT. Soon the important divide will not be between the haves and have-nots but between the connected and the unconnected, those confident in cyberspace and those for whom it might as well be outer space," he said.

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