Politics: Blair pledges `full monty' assault on poverty

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Tony Blair promised to go "the full monty" in the fight against poverty yesterday after visiting a job centre which featured in the hit film about redundant steelworkers. But, Fran Abrams reports, he did not remove more than his jacket.

Britain must undergo its most intense period of reconstruction since the Second World War to wipe out the poverty which prospered under the Tories, Tony Blair said yesterday.

At a public meeting in Sheffield, the Prime Minister set out a seven- point programme for reform to tackle under achievement both in material wealth and in aspirations. He accused the Tories of allowing the "five giants" of want, ignorance, idleness, disease and squalor, identified by Beveridge as the welfare state was set up, "to prosper".

"The last government let poverty regain its hold on Britain to an extent unseen since before the last war. Yet the support system of the welfare state was neglected. It wasn't maintained or modernised. Its costs spiralled while its effectiveness diminished.

"To put that right we now face a task of reconstruction as intense as the one that faced the post-war Labour government and that's why we need an anti-poverty strategy of the same ambition and breadth," he said.

He said Labour's reforms would involve the most comprehensive frontal assault on the problems of poverty and exclusion that Britain had seen for half a century. He promised to cut unemployment through the Welfare to Work scheme, to tackle low pay through the minimum wage, to get benefits to those who needed them most, to use education to prevent poverty in the future, to regenerate the poorest neighbourhoods, to get public services to people who needed them and to bring the voluntary sector into the fight against poverty.

Before making his speech, Mr Blair visited the Bailey Court Jobcentre, which featured in the film The Full Monty, in which redundant steelworkers become strippers. He said the message from the film was that people must believe in themselves and get up and show they can do something.

"These young people have got the talent, they have got the ability. The job of government is to give them the chance to use that talent and ability. I can give a chance to make their lives better for themselves," he said.

Later, before a gathering of about 200, he whipped off his jacket as he began a question-and-answer session. "This is not anything to do with The Full Monty. This is all I am going to take off," he joked. "But I have to say nonetheless, in terms of getting jobs for people, better education standards, tackling poverty, we do intend to go the full monty."

The Tories' social security spokesman, Iain Duncan Smith, said the opposition party had offered Mr Blair a constructive debate on welfare reform but had been ignored. The Labour government could not even say when its welfare reform Green Paper would be published.

"Mr Blair might be going for the full monty, but we must ask, `when the rhetoric has been stripped off will there be any policy underneath?' Labour's handling of welfare has lurched from disaster to disaster. Mr Blair should focus more on substance and less on sound bites," he said.

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