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Social Exclusion (Adults)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

Since 1997 social exclusion has fallen, but we need to do more, so we plan to tackle it through a focus on particular groups of people, such as ex-prisoners and those with mental health problems. Just as through “Every child matters” we have seen better local co-ordination for children’s services, so too through our work we will seek better local co-ordination for adults to tackle people’s multiple and complex needs.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome him to his new Department and his well-deserved promotion. As he knows, I worked in psychiatry, and people with mental illness are extremely difficult to place in the workplace, not least because of the prejudice of some employers. Can he reassure me that he will co-ordinate work through all Government agencies and the CBI to ensure that we get those people back in the workplace, which is not only good for their self-esteem, but is therapeutic, too?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the past 10 years, our recognition of the role of mental health problems in society and the extent to which they affect employment and a range of other issues has increased a great deal. He is right, too, to say that we need to do more work with employers, and that is the focus of the review under way as part of the comprehensive spending review. As part of our employment programmes—this was recently emphasised in the pathways to work programme—we need to ensure that when people on incapacity benefit come to us with a set of problems their mental health problems are recognised. That needs to happen across the board if we are to tackle the problems that my hon. Friend identified.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the last reckoning, no fewer than 2,063 young adults in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes suffered social exclusion by virtue of the fact that they were not in education, employment or training? Does he share my particular concern that 1,000 of those 2,063 people were in that position because of untreated speech, language and communication impairments? Will he give an undertaking to work across government to improve massively the quality and earliness of intervention, so that many of the problems that manifest themselves at a later stage, to such disadvantage to our society, can be avoided?

The hon. Gentleman makes his point extremely eloquently, and I know that he takes a personal interest in those issues. He is absolutely right about the importance of treating and addressing special needs issues early. If those needs are not addressed early—he raised the issue of individuals who are not in education, employment or training—they are not solved, and they come back to haunt those people for the rest of their lives. I will endeavour to work across government on those issues, and I am happy, too, to meet him to talk further about those and other issues.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new position, may I ask whether he has seen the proposal from the Opposition about a transferable tax allowance, and—[Interruption.]

Order. It is not for the Minister to discuss the Opposition’s policies. If the hon. Lady had phrased her question better, she might have got away with it.

I congratulate the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his colleagues on their appointments, and I look forward to many discussions at the Dispatch Box. The new Prime Minister said in the 1990s:

“We will reverse the gap between rich and poor that has affected our society.”

After 10 years in which the right hon. Gentleman had unparalleled powers as Chancellor of the Exchequer, with huge parliamentary majorities, is the Minister proud that today’s report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that

“Britain is moving back towards levels of inequality in wealth and poverty last seen more than 40 years ago”?

Is not what is needed the sort of rigorous analysis undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) in the social justice report last week?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. Over the past two years, he has tried to make the Conservative party address seriously the issues of social exclusion and social justice. That is an uphill struggle, so he is to be congratulated. On his specific question about inequality—yes, it is a problem in our society, and we should all read and acknowledge the Rowntree report. I would point out, however, that its author, Danny Dorling, said today of the “poorest of the poor” that

“that group had actually reduced in size in the last ten years and it also became less geographically concentrated. And that almost certainly is due to Government policies”.

The hon. Gentleman is right: inequality is a big challenge that we face in our society, but I believe that on the basis of long-term investment—Sure Start and other things that we are doing—we will start to tackle it, and we should all acknowledge that. Finally, a transferable tax allowance will not help to tackle those issues, which is why the Labour party will not adopt that proposal.