It feels a bit churlish to criticise the new Social Exclusion Action Plan, published on Monday. The idea of 'ASBOs for babies' that was in the newspapers last week doesn't appear anywhere, the recommendations, while not backed up by new money, appear to be about using examples of good and successful local projects and trying to make sure more people can use them, and the five underlying principles are in some cases obvious but hard to disagree with: better identification and earlier involvement, identifying 'what works', multi-agency working, personalisation of services to fit the needs of the individual and supporting achievement and managing underperformance. In particular, everyone benefits if it is possible to provide help early on, rather than trying to pick up the pieces after several years of problems. Appallingly spun though the plan was, it's much better than it sounded. It'll be interesting to see how much it manages to achieve.
The action plan, and also Alan Johnson's (otherwise admirable) recent speech on tackling poverty, suffer from one significant flaw, however. There is nothing in either about listening to people in poverty, involving them in deciding on priorities, finding out from them about what is and isn't working and what should be done differently. New Labour ministers are very keen to decry the old monolithic, paternalistic, top down state, but their rhetoric about choice and empowerment always seems to be forgotten when it comes to considering social exclusion. Which is particularly regrettable when you think that Labour being in government and each and every Labour MP owes their position to the support of people living in poverty.