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Social Exclusion

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 14th December 2011.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 14th December 2011

What assessment his Department has made of the role of the big society initiative in tackling social exclusion.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin The Minister for Government Policy

The big society is all about building social capital, which is key to solving social exclusion. There are four places where most of us build the relationships that sustain us: in the family, in school, in our communities and at work. We are taking action to build social capital in all of those through a focus on the 120,000 most troubled families, through competition and raising standards in schools, through community organisers and the community first initiative in communities and through the Work programme, the rehabilitation revolution and the drug and alcohol recovery programme.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that answer and I know that he is sincere in wanting to see civic society flourish, as am I. In Leicester, many organisations who work with vulnerable people at risk of social exclusion, such as the Shama women’s centre or those at the Saffron Lane resource centre, increasingly find that their grants and pots of money are being cut. Does the Minister think he will be able to create the big society on the cheap?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin The Minister for Government Policy

As I said the previous time the hon. Gentleman asked such a question, he is extraordinarily assiduous in this area. I have done some further research on where he has been recently and the Saffron Lane centre that he describes is, I am glad to say, one area where the community organisers to which I referred will be located. While I am at it, it is clear that the hon. Gentleman drags the Government with him every time he goes anywhere. He also visited the Eyres Monsell centre and that is now receiving a £50,000 grant from the community grants system. We can be said to be delivering not on the cheap but on the expensive in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office

This year, 40,000 households were made homeless. As we approach Christmas and with today’s rise in unemployment, Shelter estimates that every two minutes someone else faces losing their home. Now we hear that Government cuts to the big society have resulted in homeless charities facing 25% reductions in their funding. Will the Minister at least immediately agree to restore the social exclusion taskforce, which the Government shamelessly abolished when they entered the Cabinet Office, so that in the future the homeless and others who suffer from social exclusion will at least have a voice when he and his colleagues make such hard-hearted decisions?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin The Minister for Government Policy

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the changes in the machinery of government that have taken place under this Government. It is perfectly true that the social exclusion taskforce has been abolished, and the reason for that is that we have set up instead a fully fledged first-rank Cabinet committee on social justice—

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin The Minister for Government Policy

It is not in the least secret, as the hon. Gentleman mutters from a sedentary position, in the sense that it will produce a social justice strategy that he will be able to read along with the rest of the House. I think he will find that we are putting absolutely at the centre of our activities the fostering of the big society in order to help, among other things, those who are homeless. That is also one of the reasons why we recently issued our housing strategy, which does more than the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did in many years to try to improve housing in this country.