Thirty ways out of the poverty trap

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The Independent Online

The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy Report, launched this week by John Prescott, is "a framework for consultation". Which is why it is rather a shame that it has been dismissed in such a cursory manner by the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and much of the media. Few appear to have anything much to say about the contents of the Social Exclusion Unit's report, beyond pointing out that whatever the recommendations, there is not enough money to implement them.

But within this report there are no less than 30 "key ideas". I for one would like to see a little more discussion of these ideas for their own sake, before the number-crunching begins. Part of the problem here is that the report is, of course, couched in the most excruciating politesse, making it easier to switch off and dismiss rather than pile in and engage.

When, for example, I read that: "The critical issue is how to design the policy levers that create an appropriate mix of carrot and stick to ensure that real joint working is given appropriate priority locally," I did start to wonder whether I might prefer to write about Posh and Becks again. Instead, I am going to recast the key ideas in English, because on the whole they're pretty sound, even though they shrink in a rather odd way from dealing with some of the biggest problems in the 2,000 to 3,000 areas which need intensive help.

Key idea 1: Making adult skills a priority in poor neighbourhoods: We'll help people have a second crack at the education that is theirs by right, but which they never got at school.

Key idea 2: Improving IT in deprived neighbourhoods: computers are intimidating, expensive and utterly indispensable. If you don't know how to use one, your options in life are severely curtailed. Don't despair - help is at hand.

Key idea 3: Helping people from deprived areas into jobs. Obviously.

Key idea 4: Making sure people know work pays. Thanks, again, Gordon.

Key idea 5: Keeping money in the neighbourhood; we admit that for the poor, the free market sucks.

Key idea 6: Supporting and promoting business. Yes, yes, all that stuff about faceless multinationals being OK really isn't much help to the poor either.

Key idea 7: Tackling anti-social behaviour. Jack Straw invites you to come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.

Key idea 8: Introducing neighbourhood wardens. Communities need leaders, and leaders need back-up too.

Key idea 9: Improving housing lettings policies. Concentrating all the people with all the problems in one area is totally mad.

Key idea 10: Reducing neighbourhood abandonment. If nobody wants to live in a place, this may be a sign that it's not nice to live there.

Key idea 11: Promoting arts and sport in deprived neighbourhoods. Can there ever be too much of this?

Key idea 12: Building community capacity. If anyone wants to do something of benefit to their community, then they should be given resources and finances.

Key idea 13: Making it easier for local organisations to get funding. See 12.

Key idea 14: Involving community and voluntary sector organisations in service delivery. Getting the locals involved in planting their own gardens and so on, thus also massively broadening the number of television programmes they might wish to watch.

Key idea 15: Targets for core public services in deprived neighbourhoods. Making sure the welfare state is reaching those it's supposed to be there for.

Key idea 16: Ensuring services have the resources for the job. As for the dosh, well, it is true that the Government has in the last three years spent about the same on regeneration as was spent on bringing you the dear old Dome. But Gordon's got a big surprise coming in the 2000 spending review.

Key idea 17: Increasing Schools Plus activities. Schools in deprived areas need far more help than they're getting at the moment.

Key idea 18: Support for families and young people: More social workers and specialists where they're needed.

Key idea 19: On-the-spot delivery. Remember when people came round to collect the rent money, the insurance money and so on? Well, it's not quite like that, but there will be a local presence for these sorts of services again.

Key idea 20: Helping bring back shops to deprived areas. Of course.

Key idea 21: Improving access to financial services - which makes the banks look yet more dastardly. The ideology clash hots up.

Key idea 22: A central focus in Whitehall. Sort of necessary.

Key idea 23: Regional co-ordination. More necessary.

Key idea 24: Local strategic partnerships (LSPs). Well, there's got to be some entirely unsexy acronym and jargon somewhere or it wouldn't be New Labour. But pretty necessary.

Key idea 25: Neighbourhood management. Entirely necessary. On-the-ground people to feed the upward- moving bureaucracy described in key ideas 22, 23, and 24.

Key idea 26: Better co-ordination of policies and services for young people. Hmmm. What about starting with better co-ordination between key ideas 18 and 26?

Key idea 27: Getting business involved in neighbourhood renewal. Or better co-ordination between key ideas 27, 5, 6, 20, and 21.

Key idea 28: Neighbourhood statistics - on the internet? Oh, all right.

Key idea 29: A National Centre For Neighbourhood Renewal. And a central focus in Whitehall?

Key idea 30: Better training. Doctors, teachers and so on who work in these areas should have particular training for the specialised work in these areas.

Now I do think that most of this is sensible and useful. Its flaw is that it is perhaps in some regards over-optimistic and unrealistic. It is good that the report accentuates the positive and keeps faith with the idea that many of the people who have been brought low can be given help to help themselves. But it is not so good that the report is oddly silent on the matter of tackling some of the most perniciously destructive forces entwined with poverty.

These forces are drink and drugs, intimately connected and powerfully insidious. Those whose families are in the grip of these will not have the strength to grasp the hand of help that is being extended to them.

Many of the communities this strategy is setting out to aid, absolutely need on-site alcohol and drug addiction specialists if anything else is really going to work. The report acknowledges this, obliquely, when it says: "The first priority for any neighbourhood in this situation is to restore order, tackle crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour."

These are the foundations, and on these the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy will stand or fall. While the report is based on the research of 18 policy action teams, none of them had a remit to look particularly at alcohol and drugs. The report suggests that tackling local drug problems could come under the auspices of neighbourhood management, family support services and young people's services. It adds that "more work will need to be done on these issues in the development of the final national strategy." The report has got quite a few things right. This last point is certainly one of them.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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