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Duncan Smith: Labour think they have a monopoly on compassion

Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP's opening address to the Compassionate Conservatism 2003 conference

"Thank you all for coming to this ground-breaking conference.

I'd particularly like to welcome people from some of the voluntary and charitable organisations that I - and members of the shadow cabinet - have been meeting over recent times. Thanks for being here today and for helping us to understand the nature of poverty in Britain and around the world.

"This is one of the most important conferences I've addressed since I became Conservative leader. One hundred and fifty Conservatives in their teens, twenties and thirties at a two-day conference on social justice. A third of the shadow cabinet - including most of its senior members - here to talk about the Conservative Party's commitment to build one nation.

"I made that commitment after my first visit to Glasgow's Easterhouse estate in February last year. Some dismissed my commitment as a publicity stunt. Some will dismiss this conference as a two-day publicity stunt. And in this in this age of spin, perhaps that's understandable. But the people of Easterhouse and Gallowgate, of Hackney and Handsworth,

of the many other hard-pressed communities all over this country have had a profound impact upon me.

"They have led me to refocus the Conservative Party on the challenges that most face these communities but which worry and threaten everyone. Britain's left-behind communities are often thought of as Labour's strongholds. Their heartlands. But there's little heart in the way Labour neglects and forgets these communities.

"Communities suffering under the weight of drugs, crime, community breakdown and the other social challenges that the wealth and technology of our times have not defeated.

The burdens of want and fear are blighting the lives of more and more people in this country. Casting a shadow over the lives of the many and dominating the lives of the few. In recent months Conservatives have announced policies on schools, policing, drug rehab and social entrepreneurship that will help people who find life a daily struggle.

"People whose struggle is greater because of this Labour government. Greater because of the humiliating complexity of Labour's benefits system. Because of the taxes Labour have loaded onto the backs of the poorest workers. Because of Labour's appeasement in the war on crime and drugs. Because of Labour's pursuit of total politics rather than practical delivery.

"We won't identify all of the answers to today's social challenges over the next two days or even over the next few years. Problems that have grown over a generation will need the idealism, imagination and unfailing commitment of a new generation.

Your generation.

Today's social challenges - the challenge of poverty in the twenty-first century - needs you.

In your youth…

In your idealism…

In your creativity…

You, in your solidarity with people for whom life is a struggle…

You are the future of this Party.

These challenges are your challenges.

They're the challenges of the many, not the few.

The battle to overcome these challenges - in all their enormity - is the future of this Party.

"That is why I have brought the issues and you together, in this conference, as a foundational act. We live in a world where poverty challenges our moral conscience and our security. It is a staggering thought that over the next twelve months, over ten million children around the world will die as a result of malnutrition.

War, disease, terrorism and many forms of hardship and danger will feed on each other - claiming the lives of still more millions. And of those who do not die, the majority live in conditions that would be intolerable to anyone in this country.

"Against that background, there are those who say that poverty in Britain simply does not exist. But it does. Many people do not enjoy the opportunities and freedoms that most of us take for granted. I think of children growing up in homes where it's still hard to make ends meet. I think of pensioners in communities ruled by criminal gangs. Poverty is real today for those children and pensioners. When I left Easterhouse, I committed the Conservative Party to a new mission with these words:

"A nation that leaves its vulnerable behind, diminishes its own future.

"Britain will never be all that it should be until opportunity and security mean something to people in Easterhouse.

"To make this country theirs as much as it is ours. That is a mission fit for the new century."

"That is why there are two inseparable parts to our Fair Deal. No one held back and no one left behind. Opportunity and security. Aspiration and compassion.

"Talk is one thing, action is another. But, of course, action is the privilege of government, and so I want to spend some time on what this Government has done about poverty. To give credit where it's due, Labour has not been inactive. They talk big on poverty and they spend big too. I'm sure Labour politicians care about poverty but, sadly, something has gone terribly wrong with their policies. And we need to understand why if we are to avoid making the same mistakes. If we are to build an effective and distinctive Conservative programme of social justice.

"How you tackle poverty depends on how you define it. Currently the following definition is in use, 'You're poor if you live in a household with less than 60% of the median household income'. Now there are all sorts of problems with that definition. Above all the definition is exclusively financial and says nothing about the non-financial needs of every human being. It's also interesting to note that Labour - the party of equality - has presided over growing inequality. According to the Government's own statistics, Britain is more unequal under Tony Blair than at any time under Margaret Thatcher or John Major. Even under their own figures - Labour have failed.

"Ministers would say that they have focused on households with children - and that, according to their definition of poverty - and their figures - they have made real progress in this area. But they have missed their targets on child poverty and show little prospect of ever achieving them. The Labour MP Frank Field - as well as David Willetts - have shown that what progress has been made has been achieved by "picking off the easy ones."

"In other words, the main effect of Labour's policy is to shift some families from just below the poverty line to just above it. Now this helps ministers meet their targets, but it doesn't do much to help those in the deepest need.

"Earlier this month a Save the Children report confirmed Frank Field's analysis. The report's authors were concerned with children in severe and persistent poverty - equivalent to household incomes of less than 40% of the average. Over one million children live in such households. The researchers were surprised to find that many, if not most, of these households are not on permanent benefits.

"An earlier report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies came to much the same conclusions: One in ten children, the report concluded, live in households on very low incomes - but almost half did not receive any of the main means-tested benefits. So it's clear: Labour's child poverty targets are being missed - and the limited progress that has been made has been achieved by focusing on the easiest cases. Those children deepest in poverty are those least likely to be helped.

"But we shouldn't be surprised. The targets culture always encourages government to focus on the easy cases in order to fake success. The complexity of Labour's benefits system may delight Gordon Brown but it is a nightmare for vulnerable families. They cannot cope with the humiliating bureaucracy that Labour has manufactured. The stigma of means-testing means that many families and pensioners who need help do not ask for it. The perversity of the whole system means that people who try to do the right thing are often punished.

"Save money and you'll lose it. Seek work and, if you can't master the complexity of the benefits system, you'll find yourself out of pocket. The system is fundamentally flawed. Even the Government knows that something has gone terribly wrong with its policies. Let me read you this from a Cabinet Office report. It sounds as though it was written by Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby, but it's real:

"It is possible the efficacy limits of some key policy instruments are being reached.

For example, the take-up of some means tested fiscal measures remain low and further means-tested support of in-work incomes could undermine the incentives of households to enhance their own earnings."

Now, let me translate the gibberish into English:

"Our policy isn't working.

People aren't getting the help they were promised.

And if we carry on like this we're going to trap even more people in poverty."

"Let's not forget that we have reached these "efficacy limits" under the most favourable economic conditions. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have enjoyed a golden legacy of record tax receipts. Which they have spent wasted. This compares to the record of Conservatives in Kent. Kent Conservativeshave invested the good economic times of recent years to help families build free and independent lives through a range of innovative support programmes.

"Labour's policies have left the poor even more dependent on the state for their incomes and the kind of public services they receive. Worse still - Gordon Brown has spread dependency up the income scale. And when times get harder, as they always do, that dependency will remain. But it will be harder for a weaker economy to afford. And that, in the end, will be Labour's legacy to the poor. Dependence not independence.

"We can't blame this Government for inventing the flaws in the system. They have pumped more money into these flaws than any government in history, but there is nothing new about the dependency culture. Or about means testing. Nothing new about the poverty trap.

"Since the war, unimaginable sums of money have been funnelled through the benefits system. Undreamt of wealth has opened up healthcare, education, transport and culture to all sections of society. And yet social mobility is less today than it was in the 1950s. After five decades of state-led welfare a child born at the bottom of the pile is more, not less, likely to stay there.

"This is what Patricia Hewitt, a serving member of Tony Blair's Cabinet, said to the Fabian Society back in June:

"Today [historians] would still be horrified by the gulf in health, education and life chances between the child growing up in an impoverished council estate - with a secondary school where only 10 or 15 kids in a class of 100 can expect to get five GCSEs - and the child of the leafy suburbs heading confidently for university and a professional career."

What she is describing is the final failure of socialism. The final failure of the know-all, centralised state. The state that Mr Blair runs from Downing Street.

"A failure all the more dramatic if one looks beyond purely financial measures of poverty.

This is not a tactic for avoiding the issue of benefit levels. Families with young children, pensioners, people with serious disabilities, the sick, those looking for work - Conservatives will always ensure a fair income for these deserving causes. But we also know that there is no conceivable increase in benefits that would change some of the fundamental facts of poverty. A few extra pounds can make a big difference to a tight budget. But it won't buy you security when you're too frightened to let your kids play outside. Or peace, when your home is a noise-polluted tower block. Or friends, when vital support networks have been smashed by the breakdown of family and community. Or self-respect, when you're trapped in dependency. Or ambition, when your child's school descends into chaos.

"Surely, if the fight against poverty is to mean anything, then it has to be as much about peace, community and self-respect as it is about money.

And it also has to be about turning round the public services on which we all depend, but on which the poor depend most of all.

"I have devoted the greater part of this speech to the problems dogging the fight against poverty. Governments have a role to play in fighting poverty and the next Conservative government will take its responsibilities seriously. But government cannot solve the problem of poverty on its own. Securing a fair deal for everyone is a shared task. A task for government, businesses, families and communities. Conservatives have, therefore, a project.

A mission to replace the welfare state with a welfare society. It was William Beveridge who said -

"The making of a good society depends not on the state but on the citizens, acting individually or in free association with one another...

The happiness or unhappiness of the society in which we live depends upon ourselves as citizens, not on the instrument of political power which we call the state."

Beveridge was never in favour of a monolithic welfare state and issued a prophetic warning against any policy which, in his words, caused "the whole field of security against misfortune, once the domain of voluntary Mutual Aid, [to be] divided between the State and private business conducted for gain."

The post-war Labour Government ignored that warning.

That was a mistake of historic proportions - the consequences of which we still live with today. We must not live with it tomorrow. We can begin to build a welfare society.

"Let me give you a practical example of what I mean. In July, I visited Tabernacle, an inner-city school, mainly serving the African and Caribbean Community. Because the parents were fed up with the way the state system had failed their children they got together and started their own school. A school under the inspired leadership of Paulette and Derrick Wilson. Standards of discipline and academic achievement are high. The teachers love teaching there.

The pupils love learning there. And the parents, many of modest means, make the necessary sacrifices. And yet this school is under threat. The Government is set to impose a crippling regime of inspection fees that would force the school to close.

"Conservatives oppose this disgraceful attack on high quality inner-city education. Our policy is not only to systematically reduce the regulatory burden on schools like Tabernacle, but to actively support their foundation and expansion. Our State Scholarships policy will give every parent the right to send their child to a school that's right for them and consistent with the family's values. It will support schools like the Tabernacle and create more of them. We are determined that no child should be left behind in a failing school.

"Tabernacle School is just one example of what voluntary action can achieve for our nation. Indeed, there isn't a single social challenge to which someone, somewhere hasn't found an answer. Social entrepreneurs are at work in every area of public policy. And we'll be hearing from some of these trailblazing projects over the next two days. Projects which have inspired our green paper, Sixty Million Citizens, which contains sixteen proposals aimed at unlocking the full potential of Britain's civil society.

"In a moment, Greg Clark, our Director of Policy, will explain how Conservatives would open up our public services to this spirit of social renewal. But I believe that the same principle - of Government enabling people to find their own solutions - can apply to the social security system too.

"David Willetts, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will be here tomorrow to talk about his latest thinking in this area. Thinking informed by the One Nation Hearings he and other members of the shadow cabinet have held in disadvantaged parts of Britain. Also speaking will be Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, the Leader of Kent County Council, and Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster City Council - both of whom are proving that Conservatives can take on the dependency culture and win for the most vulnerable people in their communities. I thank both of them for their work.

"No serious discussion of social justice can ignore the injustice faced by communities plagued by crime. We often hear about poverty as a cause of crime. It's time we heard more about crime as a cause of poverty. People in social housing are twice as likely to be burgled as homeowners. Residents of flats are twice as likely to have a vehicle stolen than those in detached homes. The unemployed are twice as likely to suffer violent crime as those in work. There can be no end to poverty without a start to security.

"That is why the next Conservative Government will recruit 40,000 extra police officers to take back the streets for law-abiding people who, today, are afraid to walk them. Our plan for a ten-fold increase in the number of drug rehabilitation places - to 20,000 - will give young people the chance to escape from a life of addiction and crime. I'm delighted that the Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, will be here this evening to tell you more about our law and order policies.

"Crime is not the only cause of poverty. Drugs and family instability can also damage a child's chances in life. Labour is too embarrassed to face up to these issues. They hide behind a screen of political correctness. Conservatives must not be afraid to talk about these and other causes of poverty. We must be intolerant of discrimination. We will have the opportunity to talk about the face of poverty within Britain throughout this conference. And the fact that deeper exists beyond the shores of our country. If there is a pressing need for a new approach to poverty at home, then there is a desperate need for a new approach to third world poverty. Statist, and superstatist, solutions have not worked.

"But as we'll hear from Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Conservative solutions do have a chance. Through our emphasis on free trader for third world producers. On fighting corruption and promoting good governance. On trusting local agencies and local people as the only people capable of delivering sustainable development. In particular, Conservatives will put greater trust in the extraordinary work of Britain's aid agencies and fair-trade enterprises - including CaféDirect and Traidcraft - both of which are kindly with us today.

"On my first visit to Easterhouse, someone shouted out:

"What are you doing here? This is a Labour area."

"Yes," I said, "and look around you."

There will be others that say:

"Why are you talking about poverty? That's a Labour issue."

And to them I'll say "yes, and look around you."

"Labour think they have a monopoly on compassion. And this monopoly - like all monopolies - has hurt the people it dominates. Poverty is too important an issue to leave to Labour. It's too important to leave to any one political party.

"Labour is failing because it thinks poverty is only about money. Yet, as I've shown, even on its own measure, Labour is failing. Defeating poverty is about more than spending money. It's about living in a secure neighbourhood. But today - under Labour - violent crime is rising. It's about fighting the drug menace that blights our children's lives. Yet, today, families desperate to get their children off drugs find that there aren't enough rehabiltation places available.

"It's about order and structure in schools. Yet Labour have taken disciplinary powers away from headteachers. Most of all it's about giving people control over their own lives. But over recent years Labour's massive centralised state has increased dependency and left far too many people and communities unable to take key decisions about how they lead their lives.

"That's why a future Conservative government will be different. We'll protect the incomes of vulnerable people but we'll do much more. 40,000 extra police officers will reclaim the streets from criminals and drug pushers. 20,000 drug rehabilitation places will give young people a second chance in life. Our State Scholarships scheme will give parents in the inner cities the means to send their children to better schools. Our proposals on the voluntary sector will greatly increase the opportunities available to community-based social entrepreneurs.

These and other policies will make a real difference to the hard-pressed communities that I've visited throughout my time as Conservative leader.

"I don't expect to storm the Labour heartlands at the next election. But unless Conservatives can show that we will govern for the whole nation, we will neither win nor deserve to. That is why our fair deal is for everyone. No one held back. No one left behind."

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