Why cash is no panacea

December 12, 1997

The poverty policy trap

Why, among equally deprived areas, do some communities do better than others? After urban riots in France in the early 1980s, says housing specialist Anne Power, the French government actively sought out local leaders for advice on what action to take. Perhaps the Social Exclusion Unit should be on the same trail, ignoring, if it has to, moribund Labour party councillors in deprived neighbourhoods in favour of those with their fingers on the pulse.

The government must also not revisit mistakes of the past such as - Anne Power was there in the Department of the Environment to witness it - Conservative efforts to target housing spending on areas such as Merseyside. On Merseyside work opportunities had completely collapsed - with knock-on effects that made housing investment a waste. Public spending must be sensibly targeted, says Power. "What the Social Exclusion Unit could usefully do is identify how much money sets off from tax coffers to reach any particular primary schools on a bad estate. The government needs to look at what spending actually achieves ... on the front line". She goes on: "A priority has to be law and order - more police patrolling estates. That does not mean more spending on police, rather a radical reorganisation of staff. More police would mean British Telecom being prepared to put a public phone on a rough housing estate, shopkeepersprepared to open.

"The debate about social exclusion is often cash driven, when it is other aspects of the life of the poor that matter."

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