Government publishes strategy for achieving social justice

The government has laid out its strategy for achieving social justice. The strategy, Social Justice, Transforming Lives, Cm 8314, is based on the following principles:

  • a focus on prevention and early intervention
  • where problems arise, concentrating interventions on recovery and independence, not maintenance
  • promoting work for those who can as the most sustainable route out of poverty, while offering unconditional support to those who are severely disabled and cannot work
  • recognising the most effective solutions will often be designed and delivered at a local level
  • ensuring that interventions provide a fair deal for the taxpayer.

In a speech on the strategy, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, repeated his earlier criticisms of the emphasis on income support for tackling poverty: ‘We have seen a social policy overwhelmingly focused on moving people above the income poverty line. A laudable ambition surely? Yes, if done in a meaningful and sustainable way. But too often it has been the exact opposite, fuelled by out of work welfare transfers that marginally increase incomes, but do little to change lives.’

Instead, the strategy aims to build on the Child Poverty and Social Mobility Strategies, which ‘focused on transforming lives, and are part of a wider dialogue which emphasises the importance of life chances and looking at issues beyond income alone’.

The strategy is closely linked to the government’s ongoing plans to concentrate help on what it has called 120,000 ‘troubled families’. There have been a number of critiques of the ‘troubled family’ strategy. Ruth Levitas of the PSE: UK research team criticises the methodology behind the figure of 120,000 ‘troubled families’ in There may be 'trouble' ahead, and argues that the policies being suggested do not follow from the research. Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, in Neighbours From Hell’: Who Is The Prime Minister Talking About?, also critiques the way the government has misrepresented the facts, using figures about deprivation as synonymous with families causing trouble. While Gordon Hector, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Public Affairs Manager argues, in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, that the strategy’s focus is too narrow.

The PSE team has also argued, in the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Review: consultation response, that the implicit emphasis on ‘problem families’ is misplaced:

We are concerned that the philosophical position displayed in the social mobility and child poverty strategies seemingly revive a number of discredited theories from the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Cultural Deficit theory, Problem Families and theories of Transmitted Deprivation. The idea of a group of feckless, feral poor people whose pathological culture and/or genes transmitted their poverty to their children – is unsupported by any substantial body of evidence.

See also:
Iain Duncan Smith’s speech launching Social Justice: Transforming Lives on the Department of Work and Pensions website.
Details of the government’s Troubled Families programme on the Communities and Local Government website.
A summary of Ruth Levitas’s critique, Flaws in the government's troubled family strategy.
Jonathan Portes’s blog, ‘Neighbours From Hell’: Who Is The Prime Minister Talking About? on the Not the Treasury website.
Gordon Hector’s blog, The Social Justice Strategy: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website.
PSE: UK response to social mobility strategy.

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