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Social Exclusion

Volume 454: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2006

1. What steps the Government are taking to promote best practice in the targeting of support to socially excluded people. (108604)

The social exclusion taskforce is working on identifying and promoting best practice in targeting support at socially excluded people. That will include developing a common rating system for high-quality evaluations and examining the case for a centre for excellence in children’s and family services. The Government will also be undertaking a review of how well services aimed at at-risk families are working together on the ground.

I know that the Minister is fully aware that there are no easy answers to tackling social exclusion and that we need to build up an evidence base of good practice to inform future policy. Will she assure me that such projects will be based in not only England, but Wales?

I know that my hon. Friend has been assiduous throughout her career at trying to play her part in tackling social exclusion. She is absolutely right. To turn lives round, we have to use interventions that we know really work. We must make sure that programmes with a proven track record are adopted more widely. I am happy to assure her that Wales has been doing very well. The Welsh Government are seeking to roll out throughout Sure Start centres in Wales a parenting programme called the incredible years. That significant programme has been well tested and has very good outcomes. Indeed, Judy, who runs the programme, has been very helpful and an inspiration to me since I was appointed. The evidence gained from such programmes is crucial to drawing up social exclusion policy.

Does the Minister agree that among those who are most excluded in society are the elderly, disabled and parents of young families, who do not have a car and live in rural communities without access to many services? One in four or five families in rural areas have no access to a car. In such circumstances, has she used her influence to try to persuade her colleagues not to announce the closure of thousands of sub-post offices in those communities, which provide services to precisely those excluded groups?

The hon. Gentleman has worked extremely hard to cover as many subjects as possible. In the social exclusion taskforce, we are looking carefully at those who have been most excluded—wherever they live and whatever their circumstances—and considering what we can do to support them as effectively as possible. We know that all too often even if a service exists, the most excluded do not access it properly. We want to tackle that too, which is why we are concentrating on early intervention.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that socially excluded people can also be financially excluded. I hope that she welcomes the report “Cash machines: meeting consumer needs”, which was produced this morning under my chairmanship. Some 600 free cash machines will be put in low-income areas. Will she ensure that we work with local authorities so that they can identify sites and free up the planning process to allow us to make inroads into the problem and ensure that socially excluded people become financially included?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under his chairmanship, the Treasury Committee has begun to examine much more closely how the way in which financial services work affects people who have not had the sort of access that they should have had. I am very pleased that he has examined that matter. I look forward to working with him to ensure that we can make financial services much more accessible. Indeed, as part of some projects, such as the new deal for communities, we have been considering how we can achieve that in imaginative and creative ways. My right hon. Friend’s work will help us with that.

Does the Minister agree that some of the most excluded people in our society are those who sleep rough on our streets? Sadly, the number of such people is on the rise again at the moment. Will she take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to many voluntary and charitable organisations, such as Shekinah Mission in Plymouth, that will open their doors this Christmas and provide much-needed warmth and support to a vulnerable and at-risk group?

Of course, those who sleep rough on our streets are among the most excluded. When I was Minister with responsibility for housing, I was responsible for reducing the number of people sleeping rough on our streets by more than two thirds, so I know that the Government are absolutely determined to get the most vulnerable people off the streets and inside. That will not cure all their problems, but it will mean that the Government and those who work with them, including many exceptionally good voluntary organisations, can begin to help those people to put their lives back together. Next year, the social exclusion taskforce will take a lead in pilots in which we will consider how we can more effectively help many people who end up with chaotic lifestyles that may well include rough sleeping.