There was a nice moment in a Prime Minister’s speech about Life Chances earlier this month. Had it been a rotten one (I’m thinking Castro-esque here), it might have been appropriate. But this was a speech that would be quoted around the country, and in the US for its eloquence and ambition. I thought it was excellent. It needed no apology.
The length perhaps matches the size of the problem. Unlike past governments, this one has decided to tackle the causes rather than the symptoms. No more token gestures – a few quid to move a single parent household above some futile economic line – as if that ever changed anything.
The Prime Minister outlined four social insights that formed the basis of government policy, with security at it’s heart.
- Early years and family life
- The education system
- Social connections
- Support for those with treatable problems
From that came announcement of new policies, designed to tackle the root causes of poverty. There are too many to list in full, but I’ve listed the major elements:
* Families are the best anti-poverty measures ever invented, with welfare, education, and counselling systems built in. We need to strengthen them and prevent family break up by supporting couples in trouble.
* We need to help even those on low incomes to save, to minimize the effect of unexpected difficulties. That in turn helps ensure that children have stable homes in which to grow and learn, so those inevitable surprises are not as damaging.
* The “luck” element needs to be taken out of schooling. I’m not in favour of abolishing grammar schools, which in effect would be to close good schools, but they should not thrive at the expense of failing secondary moderns, many of which have become sink schools. All children should get the best education.
* That means teaching character, resilience and persistence. As David Cameron put it, that means relying more on the idea of “work and try hard, believe you can succeed, get up and try again,” as opposed to the insidious “all must have prizes” ethos of former governments.
* One way to instill that self believe is the National Citizen Service. That will have 1 Billion invested in it between now and 2021, reaching 60 per cent of 16 year olds (I can’t wait to tell my eight-year-old son).
* Opportunity needs to be made more equal (not outcome). To paraphrase, the starting point is not stopping parents giving their children a great start in life, but how we help the disadvantaged kids catch up.
* Some 1.25 Billion is being invested in mental health treatment aimed at new mothers, one in five of whom suffer mental health problems after the birth of their child, as well as the one in four of us who will suffer from depression or anxiety this year alone. There’s also the psychiatric side that will get 400 million to take treatment to communities and homes rather than A & E departments.
* Personal responsibility means facing up to problems and taking steps to seek treatment. That though is not always possible when it comes to addiction. New social investment will bring new treatments to those whose lives are ruined by drug and alcohol dependency.
Reading a list like that doesn’t really fill in the gaps that the speech itself covered so I’d encourage you to read or watch it in full. It was one of the most affecting speeches I’ve read from the Prime Minister. It inspires me in what I hope to do as a councilor, at least in a small, and much more local way.
For the record the speech was 6,000 words long, taking about an hour to deliver. There was still no reason for the PM to apologise.