Social lepers only in new `social exclusion unit'

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The Independent Online
Writing in this newspaper last week, Tony Blair announced the setting up of a new Social Exclusion Unit to help the underprivileged so that "each person no matter what their background should have the chance to succeed".

Yesterday, the Labour-run Glasgow City Council revealed its own idea of a Social Exclusion Unit in the form of a housing ghetto into which it will drive all tenants who it deems to have behaved anti-socially.

While the prime minister was trying to rescue what was left of his party's caring image during yesterday's social security debate in the Commons, the head of Glasgow's housing committee, James McCarron, was laying into "those who refuse to live normally".

He detailed plans to subject certain tenants to "resocialisation programmes" - including child psychology for their children - and called for central government to provide extra funding to pay for the initiative.

"What we're going to do with those people is marginalise them and if it has to be that they have to live in a ghetto, then so be it," he said.

"But I'm not going to tell decent people they've got to live beside drug dealers and hooligans. My sincere belief is that we could have an area where we could put those unfortunate people and rehabilitate them."

The councillor's comments will have caused embarrassment in Millbank where strategists will be anxious to correct the idea that the housing ghettos are part of the Government's national social programme.

But they illustrate the frustrations experienced by local authorities in dealing with the sharp end of urban deprivation.

Mr McCarron spoke out shortly after it was revealed that a multi-million pounds housing scheme, which had been approved by him as housing convener, is to be demolished. More than pounds 2.7m had been spent on trying to rebuild one of Glasgow's most deprived areas, South Balornock. But 10 years after the project was completed, one part, Avonspark Street, is said to resemble a "war zone" after being systematically destroyed by local residents. The street is to be demolished at a further cost of pounds 500,000.

Although Mr McCarron's proposal for "resocialisation" of tenants has not yet been approved by Glasgow council, a similar scheme has already been established in Dundee.

A housing estate has been set aside for council tenants who have proved to be anti-social and as part of their tenancy agreements, they must agree to take part in a rehabilitation programme. This includes youngsters working with child psychologists, drug addicts receiving counselling and flats surrounded by closed-circuit television cameras.

Mr McCarron, whose views can be heard tonight on BBC's Frontline Scotland programme, admitted it was a depressing vision for the future but said the South Balornock experience showed there was no alternative. "We have spent millions trying to transform poor and inadequate housing estates into homes which people should be proud of and this is how they repay us.

"If you're anti-social or a drug dealer, hopefully in the future we'll take you out and we'll take you into an area where we have child psychologists to deal with your kids and people to deal with you."

Professor Duncan MacLennan, of the Centre for Urban Studies at Glasgow University, blamed the physical deterioration of the estate on a lack of community spirit.

"One essentially has a group of people who are relatively isolated from each other, let alone the city, then there's the severe question about whether or not pouring in money will have any real effect," he said.

"In fact I'd say it would have no real effect in the long term and is just a waste of public money."