SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND POVERTY
First, thank you to those who let me have comments on the third report I sent to you in August. We are working on an extended paper at the moment, to take account of new material and your comments in particular. Our target is to publish it in the Spring as part of a new series of SSSP monographs.
The model outlined in the paper, advancing on a broad front but at very local level, strongly led and facilitated by the local authority, still offers the best way forward. But that won’t be possible everywhere. Vision and commitment at the very top are not universal! The critical thing is to build on what is already in place, at whatever level, and to enable those who are already active to overcome the obstacles they encounter.
Things seem to be developing on three fronts
The newly established Social Exclusion Unit has had some explicit targets set for it by Government. Personally I think that is rather too prescriptive rather too soon. But the direction it has been given doesn’t appear to prevent it from taking careful note of the consultation process and acting on a multiple agenda.
I presume one of its highest priorities following consultation will be a circular of guidance to local authorities on the part they have to play in combatting social exclusion. The guidance may take a different form in Scotland and Wales (does anyone know what is happening in Northern Ireland?) but it will be similar in substance. Most local authorities already have at least a statement of intent, and many will want to turn that into a corporate strategy.
That’s fine as long as, at both levels, these strategic policy statements offer something rather more dynamic and interactive than worthy exhortation.
Local pilot projects
There is no substitute for experience and we should exploit what already exists. The Social Exclusion Unit and its territorial equivalents will want to undertake a systematic evaluation of current initiatives and to consider the research which is already available. There is also quite a lot of learning to be had from past experience. ‘Social exclusion’ might be the new term of art but the concept has a long track record and some of it was very successful in its day. Even the projects which failed contain some useful learning.
Some current local projects also appear to have considerable potential for wider application. And some local authorities have already established an anti-poverty/social exclusion strategy with considerable commitment. The consultation process should reveal their existence but it won’t provide an evaluation.
Merely using past and current experience will not be enough though. Successful though they have been within their limits these projects have provided no global break-through, even at local level. I have been in the business for over thirty-five years and I have seen individual lives transformed by successful community action and considerable impact on small groups of people.
But I wish I could claim to have seen even one community affected so dramatically. To achieve that we need a small number of radical new schemes rigorously evaluated but with realistic timescales. We need to achieve nothing less than a major change in the social infrastructure achieved with democratic consent. It’s a tall order! The starting point, the real essential is a multi-lateral approach and some agreed benchmarks for success.
The co-ordination of corporate objectives
Different government and local authority departments, professional and political groupings express their objectives in their own vernacular. It can be an obstacle to effective policy co-ordination especially when, as in this case, the task belongs to everybody (and therefore nobody in particular). As Frank Warburton from NACRO points out, in his comments on the SSSP discussion paper, the infrastructure outlined in it could equally well have community safety or community health as its target objective.
Poverty and social exclusion are not the same things as, crime prevention, social education, economic regeneration and community development any more than community safety and community health. But they represent a common set of core issues. It to be possible to identify a group of objectives through which all these aims can be pursued simultaneously given recognition and goodwill. Further discussion of this subject can be found in my own book "Negotiation for Health and Social Services Professionals", published by Jessica Kingsley; in the chapter "A Common Agenda; a Different Language".
The Service Offered by SSSP
SSSP is offering, initially, my services to pursue the social exclusion agenda in the following ways.
First published by SSSP January 1998