David Lammy: 'The battle against poverty of ambition'

From the Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture, given by the Labour MP for Tottenham
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Someone once said that equality is the heart of democracy. They were right. And from that recognition flows my conviction that, just as racism is deplorable in any democracy, so are poverty, deprivation, poor education, poor housing and unemployment.

But when I walk along the streets of my constituency in Tottenham, I see that the poverty that hurts these places most is not the poverty of income, though the single parents like my mother struggling daily to make ends meet, hold down two jobs and bring up their children never cease to amaze me.

It is not the poverty of community, though we all understand the powerlessness that neighbours feel when they see their property being vandalised and their families terrorised by thugs. It is not even the poverty of the public realm, the shabby buildings, the parks soiled by the leftovers of drug users, the poorly maintained transport.

It is the poverty of ambition that all of that sustains. It is that poverty that leads young black people to say "university is not for me". It is that poverty that leads working-class kids to drop out of school, and bring themselves up on the streets. It is that poverty that will lead young people to choose the easy way out, the hustling and criminality that invariably leads to more serious trouble. It is that poverty that leads them to believe that they have no choices at all. It is that poverty that we must work hardest to eradicate.

We need to instil in neighbourhoods the energy and patience and drive needed to set them on a different path. We need belief and hope as well as bricks and mortar; we must invest in people's souls as well as their skills.

Comments