Letter: We're no underclass - just persecuted for being poor

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tony Blair can do much better than simply launching another Cabinet office policy unit this autumn, by following his Irish counterpart and instigating a public debate around the creation of a fully thought- through national anti-poverty strategy. In so doing, he would also honour a commitment made at the 1995 UN World Social Summit in Copenhagen - but not upheld - by the previous government to develop a national poverty eradication plan.

The Irish National Anti Poverty Strategy, launched earlier this year, following 18 months of consultation, addresses the underlying causes of poverty and social exclusion. Crucially, it also sets a measurable and time-bound target for reducing poverty, and recognises the importance of keeping those affected by poverty and the voluntary and community organisations which represent them involved throughout the process.

The UK government cannot hope to make serious inroads into "social exclusion" unless it is prepared to establish structures to include those most directly affected by poverty and social exclusion within the policy-making process. New Labour has not been backward in welcoming the captains of industry into the machinery of government, but has yet to demonstrate a commitment to seek out the opinions of those at the other end of the social scale. Church Action on Poverty and the other 150-odd members of the UK Coalition Against Poverty are therefore looking for some concrete steps towards achieving this, and not just another Downing Street policy announcement this autumn.

NIALL COOPER

National Coordinator

Church Action on Poverty

Manchester

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