Speeches recovered from the Conservative party‚Äôs online archive More…

A fair deal for Britain's most vulnerable communities

Thank you very much, Luke, for again inviting me to speak at Toynbee Hall.

I pay sincere tribute to the dedication to London's East End of all your staff and all of Toynbee's many volunteers.

Toynbee Hall's national reputation for social policy is deeply rooted in your commitment to innovative community service.

The Barnetts, Atlee, Beveridge and other Toynbee greats would - I am sure - be very proud of Toynbee Hall's work today.

And I know I speak for all of us here when I say a special thank you to your inspirational President, Jack Profumo.

It was nearly six months ago - when on my visit to you - I named five new giants stalking Britain.

Five key social challenges facing our people:

Rising crime;

Failing schools;

Substandard healthcare;

Child poverty; and

Insecurity in old age.

Those five giants already affect or threaten every community in Britain.

Defeating them isn't just a moral obligation.

Turning the tide on crime and public service failure is in everyone's interest.

Not just because none of us are immune from the damaging effects of social decline.

But also because unless we come together as a nation - in order to advance the interests of everyone - we forfeit the right to call ourselves civilised.

People from minority communities, our poorest citizens and the very young and very old remain Britain's most vulnerable - they are hurt most by the giants.

In the past some Conservatives gave the false impression that poverty had been overcome.

During my leadership I've made it clear that that's not my belief.

Last year, David Willetts gave a speech entitled 'The Reality of Poverty'.

In it he surveyed the complex material and relational dimensions of twenty-first century poverty.

He noted that fighting poverty wouldn't be cheap but it couldn't be just about money.

Communities stay poor because of crime, community breakdown and the disempowerment that can be passed from one generation to the next.

He and other shadow cabinet ministers held a number of investigative One Nation Hearings in hard-pressed areas.

And I told last spring's party forum that restoring hope in places like Glasgow's Easterhouse estate was a personal commitment.

In recent months the Conservative Party has begun the process of unveiling policies that underpin our determination to restore that hope.

Take education.

Far too many inner city schools are failing.

And when they fail - one of a young person's best hopes of a better future is lost, perhaps forever.

Damian Green has proposed a system of state scholarships to provide children from inner city areas with an escape route from failure.

State scholarships will give parents a chance to send their child to a good school.

One more suited to their child's needs and their own values.

This system of scholarships will, I hope, encourage higher standards in existing schools.

But it will also encourage - and pay for - the establishment of new schools that serve children's diverse needs.

If education is a springboard out of poverty; then crime can entrap children in it.

Oliver Letwin's innovative policies will cut the conveyor belt to crime for tens of thousands of young people.

A greater emphasis on early intervention - including parent support services - will stop the conveyor belt at its earlier stages.

And the Conservative commitment to fund 20,000 new drug rehabilitation places will give other young people a chance to find freedom from addiction.

I've sat with parents of drug users who - already devastated by their child's drug habit - are close to being broken by the failure of the current system to provide rehab.

That has to change.

Another change we must make is to the level of policing on Britain's streets.

The 40,000 extra neighbourhood police officers Conservatives are committed to provide are not just a sign of our commitment to beat crime.

They're a symbol of our commitment to restore community and reclaim it from the gangs that imprison people in their homes.

Through commitments like these on education and crime - and other policies focusing on better healthcare and housing - Conservatives will reverse the decline in Britain's public services.

Our policies are built on the rock of successful models throughout Europe and in Australia and America.

We build, too, on what local Conservative councils are already achieving.

Last year it was Conservative councils that received the most star awards for the quality of their social service provision for vulnerable people.

Conservative councils run schools with the lowest levels of truancy and the best exam results.

Local Conservatives are more committed to provision of street lighting and CCTV.

By this time on Friday I hope more Conservative councillors will have been elected to deliver such practical compassion.

Labour's record on public service reform has failed the whole nation but the poor have suffered most.

The revitalisation of Britain's public services is vital and urgent but - on its own - it won't be enough to reduce child poverty and other forms of social injustice.

Progress will need to be underpinned by a strong, job-creating economy.

Success will also depend upon a stronger, cohesive society.

A society of which we can all feel proud.

And by society I do not mean the state.

The free institutions of society - like families, charities, local schools and other people-sized institutions - provide diverse, innovative and face-to-face care that state bureaucracies cannot match.

It's these associations within society that give me the greatest hope that even the worst effects of the Five Giants can be overcome.

Since I named the Five Giants I've travelled to almost every part of Britain.

The Five Giants are at least as menacing as I feared.

Too much of what I have seen has made me conclude that society is being hollowed out from within.

In Glasgow, Jim Doherty and Janis Dobbie of the Gallowgate Family Support Group, showed me around Parkhead Cross.

It's a neighbourhood in the grip of drug abuse and the havoc it wreaks.

At night criminal gangs rule the streets.

Two of Jim's own sons have become addicts.

He can't understand the failure of government to provide proper rehab for his children and the children of the other families who flock to the Gallowgate Support Group.

He told me "We have already lost our children's generation to drugs.

The battle we're fighting now is to save our grandchildren."

Jim's words - Jim's challenge - affected me deeply.

If Britain doesn't act to save his grandchildren my generation of politicians will have failed.

And we will certainly fail if we don't do something about the state monoculture.

The state is already too pervasive on many of the poorest communities -crowding out any and all alternatives to its own bureaucratic agencies and its metropolitan worldview.

Beneath an artificial plantation of conifers nothing grows.

All light is absorbed by the dense and impenetrable canopy far above the soil.

The five giants won't be defeated if government acts as if the work and values of groups like Jim Doherty's don't matter.

Government must become an active and enthusiastic servant of society's many poverty-fighting and community-building groups.

In natural woodland, trees are spaced apart - allowing light and rain to nourish a diversity of plants and wildlife.

An enriching and highly-interdependent ecosystem develops.

It's still like that in parts of Britain.

For a very long time the people-sized institutions of society have lacked political champions.

Their vital role has been taken for granted - or worse still dismissed - by big state and free market fundamentalists.

That must change.

Government can and must do much more to unlock Britain's social capital.

Soon, I'll be publishing a Green Paper that will investigate how the next Conservative government will do that.

It will contain proposals that are themselves as ambitious as the aspiration to serve of our nation's volunteers, charities and social entrepreneurs.

It will applaud the work of faith-based groups like Manchester's Message Trust and Cardiff's Care for the Family that have impressed me so profoundly.

The government is wedded to the idea that more government spending and control is the answer to today's challenges.

But this government is not unlocking the potential of Britain's social capital.

It is not helping the people who have the ideas and values to rebuild their communities.

Luke - on behalf of Toynbee Hall - has been one of a large number of voluntary sector representatives who have kindly contributed to the formulation of the Conservative Green Paper.

That Green Paper will be a next stage in my party's continuing commitment to offer a fair deal for Britain's most vulnerable communities.

I look forward to as many of you here as possible helping us to first develop - and then deliver - that fair deal.

It's time for politicians to help people rebuild their communities.

And to return hope to neighbourhoods where - today - there is none.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech