Speaking of the Government's long-term aims, the Home Secretary said: "I think there's a good chance that there will emerge from all this in 10 years' time a society in which class divisions are much less marked. We will hopefully have a combination of the best of the States and the Netherlands, where the searing class divisions in our society are no longer noticeable."
But in an interview with the New Statesman magazine, Mr Straw added: "You won't have these estates where the casualties of the past 18 years have been dumped, and our reforms will make state education more attractive to the middle classes."
A senior ministerial source told The Independent that the Government planned to bring "in from the cold" the 10 per cent of the population who were currently excluded from mainstream society. "You raise their self-esteem, give them back a stake in society, you give them a higher and more honestly secured income, you raise their educational skills, and their social skills, and by doing so you will actually improve their health," the source said.
When the Prime Minister set up a Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Unit last year, he ordered three specific reports: on truancy and school exclusions; rough sleepers; and the "worst estates".
The sink estates report is expected to go to ministers by June, and will deal with the development of "integrated and sustainable approaches to the problems of the worst housing estates, including crime, drugs, unemployment, community breakdown, bad schools etc".
The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, estimates on the basis of the 1991 census that there are 1,370 deprived local authority estates in England alone, with 64 per cent of them in London.
Deprivation is measured on the basis of unemployment, children in low- earning households, overcrowding, households lacking basic amenities, lack of cars, educational participation at 17, long-term unemployment ratios, income support recipients, low educational attainment, mortality rates as a health measure, household contents insurance grading as a measure of crime, and land dereliction.
The Social Exclusion Unit has said that a study of 20 of the most deprived estates found that 23 per cent of estate-linked schools achieved no GCSEs at grades A to C - more than twice the national average "failure" rate -and that people living in high crime areas such as the estates were ten times more likely to be the victims of crime.
It also said that in areas where more than half of homes were council housing, unemployment was generally more than twice as high as the average for England; there were twice as many lone parent households; and 50 per cent more long-term sick.
The priority being given to social exclusion as a policy issue had been illustrated by the fact that Tony Blair has taken a personal interest in steering the work of the unit, and the fact that he has agreed to chair one "summit" on each of the issues being examined.
He chaired a meeting on truancy and school exclusion in December, and "summits" on rough-sleepers and the sink estates are expected during the summer.