Children of problem families need early state help, says Blair

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Tony Blair will next week call for "early intervention" to stop children who grow up in problem families from becoming criminals, teenage parents or drug users.

In a major policy speech, the Prime Minister will call for children identified as being at risk of social exclusion to be helped even before they go to school.

The move by Mr Blair is designed to seize the initiative amid fresh calls for him to name the day when he will step down from office. Yesterday Mr Blair announced a programme of work to tackle concerns around security, immigration and cohesion. The Government is considering parenting classes to break the cycle of poor behaviour in children as young as three.

He is expected to call for early intervention in a keynote speech to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation next week. His intervention will follow work by Hilary Armstrong, the cabinet minister responsible for social exclusion, and the Downing Street Strategy Unit which found that children who grow up in "chaotic" families, often involved in criminality, have far more limited prospects than their peers from stable backgrounds.

At a seminar at Chequers this week, Mr Blair will meet key policy makers to discuss ideas on tackling social exclusion.

"He will be looking at the issue of social exclusion including complex, chaotic families, teenage mothers, children in care and people with mental health problems," said one Downing Street source. "It is reckoned that 2.5 per cent of every generation end up being socially excluded."

Mr Blair faced calls yesterday to "clarify" when he plans to stand down as Prime Minister before the start of the Labour Party conference.

Key Labour figures warned that unless he made a public statement of his intention to go before the conference next month it would be entirely dominated by speculation about his exit - both before and after his platform speech. Mr Blair was warned yesterday by one of his closest cabinet allies that speculation about when he would leave office was causing "uncertainty" in the Labour Party.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, acknowledged there was a "sense of focus" on when Mr Blair would leave No 10 and hand over power. She said there was a sense of unease in the party. "There is undoubtedly a sense of uncertainty and a sense of focus on this issue of the leadership," she told the BBC.

"This is very much fed within the Westminster village but it is by no means the overriding issue in the Labour Party."

Geoff Hoon, the Europe minister, yesterday added fuel to the flames when, in a thinly veiled reference to a handover of power to Gordon Brown, he referred to "leaders" of the Labour Party in a BBC interview. Mr Hoon acknowledged that the Government had been going through a difficult period and some voters were turning to David Cameron's Tory party.

"There is no doubt in mid-term every government in history - apart actually from the last two Labour governments - has had the same kind of problems that we have seen," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

"There are a whole range of issues that lead people to think that, perhaps after a long period in government, there might be an alternative," he said.

Mr Blair said yesterday that he will devote the next few weeks discussing with members of his government how to tackle the terror threat, eradicate social exclusion and drive up education for families.