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One of the Opposition’s central claims about our approach to poverty—that we have almost been fiddling the figures and appear to have done something about poverty when we have not—is incorrect. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) asks about the figures for those receiving below 40 per cent. of median income. I cannot find a credible commentator who believes that the figures that
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the Conservative party has produced for that category are reliable or robust, partly because of self-employment and other issues.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I fully understand why the Minister takes a defensive position on a set of figures—we could argue about statistics—and does not want to answer the question about the figures for those whose income is below 40 per cent. of the median. However, I do not want to get into that. Does he believe that debating whether the Government have been successful serves any purpose? The key is where we are now. The report discusses the current position and how it is becoming embedded and not moving. All the early, easier stuff has been done. The problem is becoming deeper and harder to solve.

Edward Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman asks an important question, and I shall tell him why it serves us to discuss whether we have been successful. The question is whether we change course because we believe that the Government have not succeeded in the past 10 years, or whether we acknowledge the gains that have been made. If we do the latter, we build on the strategy and do not reverse it. The debate on the condition of Britain is therefore important.

I do not make my next comment in a partisan way, but to inform the debate. When we examine the indicators for poverty, worklessness and educational attainment, we realise that the figures went in the opposite direction between 1979 and 1997. Why did that happen?

Mr. Duncan Smith: I do not want to bang on about this matter, but let us take, for example, youth unemployment. We know that, after all the money that has been spent on the new deal, youth unemployment has increased since 1997. I believe that the Government have been trying, but they have not got it right. I stress that the early, easier stuff has been done. If we continue to pursue a strategy because it was successful earlier, but the rewards and results are now narrowing, we will hit a brick wall.

Edward Miliband: The argument that we now need to build on the important successes of the last 10 years is very different from the argument that the last 10 years have been a failure and our strategy has not worked. Let us be completely candid about this: that agenda is part of the Opposition’s approach to these issues, which is why I believe that it is right to correct it.

Let me move on to talk more about the future. As I said, we need to build on what we have achieved so far. Let me set out four ways in which we can build on the progress of the last 10 years. First, we have invested to remove the barriers to opportunity, and we need to go further in that direction. We can all agree that education is the key to opportunity, and I am pleased that the report acknowledges that investment in the early years is particularly important. That is why we have invested, and why we will continue to invest, in the early years. That is why we intend to reach our goal of having 3,500 children’s centres by 2010. Those centres are making a big difference in my constituency. To echo
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the sentiment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), this is a long-term strategy, which is why it is so important to persist.

I realise that the Opposition now support Sure Start, which I greatly welcome, and I hope that they stick with it. There have been mixed evaluations of Sure Start: we should be honest and respond to them, but I believe that Sure Start can make an enormous difference to helping people in the earliest years as well as helping parents, which, again, was rightly emphasised in yesterday’s report.

We also need to look beyond schools and beyond what happens within the hours of schooling. Since entering the House, I have campaigned on the issue of youth services, which is one of the important keys to the issues that we are debating. Indeed, I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have taken a keen interest in that issue in the past. When I was chairman of the all-party group on youth affairs, I was struck by the number of hon. Members who told me that inadequate youth services were a very serious problem. Here, I agree that the voluntary sector and social enterprise can play an important role. The truth is that we have not invested properly in youth services for something like 40 years, since the Albemarle report was published in the 1960s. That marked a big increase in the amount of investment in youth services. In the next few weeks, the Government will produce a strategy on how to invest in the future, which I very much hope will command all-party support.

Part of the strategy should be investing in universal services, but as the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North has demonstrated extremely well, that is not enough in itself. We have learned that lesson over the past 10 years. At the same time, we also need to focus extra help on those who need it most. That has been the focus of the social exclusion unit—now the social exclusion task force—and it has led to reductions in rough sleeping and improved support for older people. We now need to go further.

We are learning from experience overseas, which once again brings us back to the importance of the early years. Family nurse partnerships are all about providing support to young mothers, particularly providing structures and intensive home visiting to disadvantaged mothers from early pregnancy until the child is aged two. I am encouraged because the report produced by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green talks encouragingly in the foreword about the importance of these family nurse partnerships and the difference that they can make. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman found out from the people who were directly involved in those projects that they really were making a difference.

Highlighting the issue of prevention, it is right to focus on the income of expectant mothers. We announced in the Budget that child benefit would be available not just from a child’s birth, but from the 28th week of pregnancy—an approach that had long been called for. I hope that it will provide an important source of support to pregnant mothers.

I acknowledge that we need to provide more focused help to those who need it most, across the board. That is why over the next few weeks my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will be
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announcing plans to build on the new deal, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will be providing extra support in the form of one-to-one tuition to help children who are struggling in primary schools, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has announced extra support to help teenagers from poorer families to attend university.

I had the privilege of talking to the right hon. Member for West Dorset last night while we waited a rather long time before appearing on “Newsnight” together. I acknowledge that on drugs policy, he made a strong case that there was further to go. We have doubled the number of treatment places, but we will look with great care at what the report recommends. The section on addiction is the thickest section of the report, so I cannot pretend to have read all of it since it came out yesterday. We will look carefully at what it says.

Chris Bryant: There are nowhere near enough drug and alcohol addiction services in this country, but it is sometimes felt that there is a prejudice against faith-based organisations involved in these areas. Although faith-based solutions might not be right in every case, there are many cases in which a church or church-based organisation can make a dramatic difference.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. When I was Minister with responsibility for the third sector, I met a number of faith-based organisations who told me that they did not want to proselytise or convert people. It was faith that drew them to the work they did on drug addiction, but they were not trying to impose their faith on people. It is often hard to get public authorities and others to understand that. I have no problem with faith-based organisations helping to provide those services, as long as there is no conditionality in terms of converting people.

Mr. Allen: May I take my hon. Friend back to the point made by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) on drug prevention? We need to change the culture in this place and in Government about how we view prevention. People do not get many brownie points, or tick many boxes in their local area agreement, for prevention. One can find it difficult to measure the product of prevention. Will my hon. Friend, and the House, seek to make the big cultural shift—in the Government above all—to recognise prevention and measure it effectively? If so, we will be spending much less money—an argument that he can deploy with the Treasury—on the consequences of failure and a little bit more on making sure that as a result of drug prevention, we get productive youngsters.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a double-funding problem; we have to spend to deal with the consequences of failure, and it is difficult to shift money away from that because we need to continue to deal with the problem. Many of the programmes launched in the past 10 years, such as Sure Start, are precisely about prevention, as are youth services. My hon. Friend is also right to say that the issue of outcomes is difficult. We need to show that we are getting results from public money, but these outcomes are often difficult to capture. Perhaps we can draw on my hon. Friend’s experience in this area.

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Paul Flynn: To his great credit, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) talks in his report about our failure on drugs policy, which is worse than that in almost any other country in the world. It is not the result of the last 10 or 20 years; it is the result of the last 35 years of policy by all parties, who have been excessively defensive about their policies. In 1971 there were 1,000 drug addicts. There are now 280,000. Should not we start by recognising that failure, and then go on to look for solutions in other countries that have achieved great successes?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to learn from other countries. Although the number of drug-related deaths is falling, there is no room for complacency. I should add, however, that this is an extremely complex social, economic and cultural problem; as a constituency MP, I know that there are no easy solutions to it.

John Bercow: The Minister rightly emphasises that faith-based organisations can play an important role in tackling drug and alcohol dependency. However, there is much less scope than some of their advocates propose for faith-based approaches to tackling problems such as the high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The truth is that it is no good preaching at people about abstinence; what we need are decent sexual health services and contraception provision. There must be a practical approach, rather than one based on religious fervour.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes the point far more eloquently than I could, and I completely agree with him. I think that he has also said that good sex education is important. Our teenage pregnancy rate is high compared with those in the rest of Europe, but it is lower now than it has been for 20 years. That is partly because of the approach of the past 10 years, which has involved more sex education than previously.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con) rose—

Edward Miliband: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency I recently visited.

Mr. Burrowes: Yes, and I was grateful for that visit. The Minister rightly stresses the importance of early intervention and youth services, so does he share my concern that throughout the country there is only one small residential facility funded by statutory services—Middlegate—where young people can receive help with addiction?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has told me something that I did not know. We have increased the number of residential places, and the issue of young people and addiction is important.

The report also addresses personal debt, and we can agree with much of what it says. We have tried to provide more advice for people who suffer from personal debt and to increase the amount of affordable credit. There is common ground on that subject, and we must make further progress.

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I have said that we need universal services, and that we must back them up with extra support. To echo a point made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset, we also need to engage citizens in solving their problems. He offered a judo analogy; my judo is not good enough for me to have followed it fully, but I agree with the sentiment as far as I understand it.

We have made progress, and we must continue to do so. In social care, we are introducing individual budgets and putting the user in control. Some of the most disadvantaged people in our society, who need extra help to live independently, have been able to do so, and have felt much more in control of what happens to them. We must build on that.

We also face a massive challenge in education. We must engage parents in the literacy and numeracy skills of their children, and get them to feel that they can support their kids. We are introducing a new family learning course to help.

More generally in terms of neighbourhoods, we need to further the engagement of citizens in local decision making; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is addressing that. That is part of the solution to the problems we are discussing. There are also issues to do with neighbourhood budgets and policing.

I am also pleased that the document supports our community asset fund, which is based on the notion that local authorities should in certain cases be able to transfer assets to local communities, as that gives local communities a sense of control and an economic and social stake in what is happening in their areas. As a Minister, I have been keen to make progress on that, and I want to continue to do so.

Mr. Slaughter: I hate to introduce a divisive note into what has been a very cotton-wool debate so far, but my constituency has many areas of multiple deprivation. I listened to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my right hon. Friend, but the main problem for my local community and voluntary groups is the Conservative council selling community assets at market rents without consultation. Unless Conservative and Liberal councils fund voluntary organisations and support community groups, we will not even get to first base.

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not wish to introduce a partisan note, but I fear the record of Conservative councils in the past couple of years in relation to the voluntary sector. My hon. Friend and I had an Adjournment debate about the council’s disturbing record in Hammersmith and Fulham, and there are other examples from around the country where the welcome rhetoric about the voluntary sector is not matched by action.

That takes me to the fourth element of our strategy, which is to draw on the skills of the third sector. I agree with the right hon. Member for West Dorset that often it is the third sector that can best reach out to people and involve them in services, often because staff are drawn from the communities they serve. That is why we have increased funding for the third sector over the past 10 years and are trying to tackle the barriers that frustrate it in delivering public services. It is also why
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we want to support small organisations that make a particular difference. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and I have talked in the past about the role that small organisations play as part of the social glue of our society.

I also believe that we must enable charities to campaign, because real social change—which is needed in many of these areas—comes not just from above but from below, and from the campaigning work and advocacy that third sector organisations can do. We must be careful, however. The voluntary sector can play an important role in helping to deliver services, but it must never be used—as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) says—as a way of abdicating the state’s responsibility to fund public services adequately. That is a cautionary note, if I may say so, for the Opposition in particular.

Mr. Streeter: It is important that when the state, whether national or local government, engages the third sector—and especially small and successful organisations—it does not then try to wrap the third sector in so many terms, conditions and specifications that it is prevented from doing its job. Does the Minister agree that third sector organisations must be given their head so that they can continue to do the job they were doing before they were contracted by the Government?

Edward Miliband: I agree, and it is a matter I was working on when I had ministerial responsibility for the third sector. It is tough, because we are responsible for the proper spending of public money, but at the same time we have to ensure that third sector organisations are not stifled when they come into contact with Government.

Tom Levitt: My right hon. Friend makes the strong point that we need large and small organisations active in the sector and helping to deliver services. Does he detect in the report that we are discussing a strong bias against larger organisations, and does he agree that the delivery of the digital hearing aid strategy, for example, could not have been done by a small organisation? It was delivered by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, working closely with the Government. Has he also noticed that if the Conservative party manifesto commitment to fund the four pillars of the lottery equally—25 per cent. each—were to be implemented, it would cut the amount of lottery money going to small organisations—currently 35 per cent. of lottery funding—by £60 million, which is the equivalent of the awards for all budget?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right to post a warning, because anxiety about large organisations is a theme in the report. If that is simply about the fact that we need to ensure that small organisations are properly involved and their skills and talents are tapped into, that is right, but many large charities do an extraordinary job in many different ways. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should not have a prejudice against them.

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