Letter: Include us all

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Sir: I offer two cheers to the Prime Minister on his government's decision to create a Social Exclusion Unit (article, 8 December) with the aim of tackling problems caused by a lack of education, jobs and money, particularly in the inner cities.

It is important that the young have real opportunities for training and work, that the longer-term unemployed are given the skills they need, that the vulnerable and disabled are not forgotten, and that parents under pressure are provided the support they need. If we are not to become a society characterised by public squalor and private wealth, we must learn how to care for one another again. The Government's decision, therefore, to establish a special unit to grapple with social exclusion in a strategic and structured way, merits a cheer of welcome.

As the Government's programme gets under way, it is to be expected that many will want to get on to the bandwagon - dare I say, even those who have been the cause of much social exclusion that we see around us! In a way, this is a strength as people are recognising the urgency of the problem and there is much goodwill for a new government. On the principle of "those who are not against us are for us", such offers of co-operation should be encouraged and accepted. Another cheer.

That said, without the contribution of the churches the Government is in danger of missing a trick. That is why I cannot raise a third cheer. It appears that the Government is about to forget those who maintained a prophetic witness in this area, often against the odds. In the area of economic and social deprivation, it is the churches who have played a major role on the front line and maintained relentless pressure on sometimes unresponsive government over almost two decades.

Beyond their local presence and their social analysis, the churches have put their money where their mouth is. The Church Urban Fund, established as a result of the controversial Faith in the City report, has channelled significant funds into social and economic regeneration, as well as into the strengthening of local Christian communities and their ministries.

The churches have a wealth of experience and expertise to bring to the task of tackling the huge problem of exclusion in our society. They must be allowed to contribute to the policy and practice of the Government's programme in a significant way.

+MICHAEL NAZIR-ALI

Bishop of Rochester

Rochester, Kent

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