The Government was accused last night of failing to allocate enough money to fund ambitious plans to revitalise some of the poorest neighbourhoods and estates across England.
John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, launched a 10-year Neighbourhood Renewal programme yesterday to cut crime, create jobs and improve public services in the worst areas of the country as part of the Government's "war on poverty". But Conservatives and Liberal Democrats claimed the level of funding allocated to urban regeneration and helping deprived areas did not match up to the scale of the problem.
Meanwhile, figures from the Office of National Statistics showed the income gap between rich and poor has widened since Labour came to power, heightening concerns among left-wingers that the Government was not doing enough for the party's "heartlands".
The Government's strategy document, drawn up by the Social Exclusion Unit, highlighted the way poverty had become more concentrated in individual estates where people have become more excluded from the mainstream of society.
They suffer mortality rates up to 30 per cent higher than the rest of the country, a 25 per cent higher rate of poor skills and literacy, three times as much burglary and six times as much unemployment. The report showed there is a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority communities, which are over-represented in deprived areas by a factor of four.
Among the measures planned are the introduction of neighbourhood wardens, creation of neighbourhood learning centres, support for businesses willing to move into deprived areas and selective demolition of un-lettable property. "In future we'll be tackling the causes of poverty and investing to create jobs and support enterprise. We need more businesses in our poorest areas, not more benefit offices," said Mr Prescott.
He also announced a £300m injection of New Deal funding for seven of the very poorest estates - the East Brighton estate in Brighton, Preston Road in Hull, Kensington in Liverpool, Westgate in Newcastle upon Tyne, the North Earlham and Marlpit in Norwich, Radford in Nottingham and the Ocean estate in Tower Hamlets, east London. But Archie Norman, Conservative Environment spokesman, dismissed the whole initiative as "an unconvincing attempt to appease Labour's heartlands".
"The fact is that after three years taxation has increased enormously but Labour have spent £400 million less on regeneration than we did in a similar period," he said.
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat Environment spokesman, said the Government's own report had identified 2,000 to 3,000 communities in need of regeneration at an estimated cost of £20m to £50meach. Yet only £800m had been allocated over the three years since 1998. "At this rate it will take him 100 years to revitalise Britain's local communities," he said.