Thursday, September 28, 2006

Reaching the Limit

One of the nice things about Labour conference is that there are more interesting meetings in a day then in most months. After Clinton's speech I went to a meeting hosted by Child Poverty Action Group and End Child Poverty (Donald Hirsch from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was interesting, Kate Green, director of CPAG, was brilliant, Ed Balls was a bit rubbish). Then in the evening was a policy wonk event on whether Labour had reached the limit in terms of tackling poverty. The speakers were Pat McFadden, Vera Baird, Victor Adebowale and Lisa Harker, so a minister with direct responsibility for social exclusion, one of Labour's best MPs, the chief executive of Turning Point and the child poverty 'tsar', all of whom I was interested in hearing from.

Three of the four speakers (Lisa Harker didn't actually get to speak because of the African drumming band which started up on the floor below) all suggested that Labour hasn't reached its limits on tackling poverty, and that the next stage was to help people be able to access support and change their behaviour, which is causing their poverty. The way to do this, essentially, is for managers to redesign public services.

Unlike other events that I'd been to, this one didn't have anyone speaking who had direct experience of poverty. The tone of the discussion, as a result, was very much about how do 'we' help 'them' to change their behaviour, and how do we reduce the number of 'problem people', the things which the powerful people aren't (usually) rude and obnoxious enough to say in public, but which are actually the way that even some of the most committed and best of them actually think about the issue.

Whatever clever managerial reforms are made, whatever sanctions or incentives special advisers can think up to encourage people to do to behave differently, Labour will reach the limit in tackling poverty as long as it is only seen as a managerial problem about what to do about 'them'. The whole point of having a Labour Party is that poverty and inequality are caused by forces beyond the control of any one individual, and that the best way to reduce poverty is by listening to, involving and giving power to the people in our society who have the least.


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