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Chris Grayling: Labour have failed to deal with Britain's social challenges

"About twenty years ago I applied for a job with the documentary team at London Weekend Television. On the interview panel was Trevor Phillips - then one of their highest profile reporters. Give me an idea for a programme, he said.

It was the time of high profile gang wars in Los Angeles, a recently emerged and profoundly troubling feature of life there, and to an increasing degree in other Cities.

Social trends in the US, I suggested, tend to be reflected in Britain a decade or more later. So I'd be doing a programme on whether a gang culture will come to Britain as it has in the US.

I wasn't wrong - and they made the programme.

A few weeks ago, I spent one of the most illuminating evenings that I have had since entering politics out with the specialist police team in Manchester's Moss Side that works to tackle the gang issues in the area.

Even as someone well aware of the gang problem in our society, it was a shocking and enlightening experience. What was going on there at the time was nothing short of an urban war.

A local troublemaker, recently released from prison, was on the streets trying to reassert his status. Rivalry between local gangs had flared up into all out conflict.

In the ensuing conflict a local gang member had been shot through the upstairs window of a house and was seriously ill in hospital.

We saw the bullet hole in the window through which the shot had passed.

The previous evening the homes of two members of the gang responsible for the shooting had been smashed up by their rivals in an act of revenge.

We saw the broken windows and the smashed up doors.

An urban war taking place on the streets of one of our biggest cities.

Over the past decade violence in our society has become a norm and not an exception.

Since Labour came to power, the level of violent crime in Britain has risen dramatically, by 70 per cent.

Gun crime is up by more than half and there are more than 100 serious knife crimes each day

Under Labour, fatal stabbings reached the highest level on record.

The culture of violence that was a feature of US cities a generation ago is now a feature of British cities.

The same is true of the culture of deprivation, harm, addiction and failure that is a feature of the worst US urban areas.

That world too is also following the culture of gangs and violence across the Atlantic.

It's the world of the drama series The Wire. A series that tracks the nightmare of drugs, gangs and organised crime in inner city West Baltimore.

It's a horrendous portrayal of the collapse of civilised life and of human despair.

Neighbourhoods where drug dealing and deprivation is rife.

A constant threat of robbery to fund drug dependency.

Communities dogged by violence and by violent crime.

The Wire used to be just a work of fiction for British viewers. But under this Government, in many parts of British cities, The Wire has become a part of real life in this country too.

Far too many of those features of what we have always seen as a US phenomenon are now to be found on the streets of Britain as well.

And therein lies the rub.

Two weeks ago my colleague George Osborne said that only the Conservatives now have the progressive ideas that can start to get to grips with the very real failings in our society.

His comments provoked a cry of outrage from the Labour Party.

Nothing seems to antagonise the politicians of the left more than Conservatives talking about progressive politics and Broken Britain.

Just witness how furiously Lord Mandelson reacted to the suggestion that the Conservatives are offering the right, progressive solutions to Britain's social problems.

But he and they seem unable to grasp the fact that the left do not have the answers. That their ideas just haven't worked.

Even now, after twelve years in Government where they have systematically failed to make the difference, they believe they have a monopoly of ideas about how to deal with social breakdown.

They don't.

And what's more, their failure to deliver change is blighting the lives of the very people who are their political raison d'etre.

When the Wire comes to Britain's streets, it is the poor who suffer most.

Whose lives are blighted.

People who this Government promised to help, but has abandoned along with the progressive politics it once claimed to champion.

It is the poor who are the victims of Labour's decade of failure.

It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this Government.

It is they who struggle to live their lives against a constant fear of crime.

It is those who need the most help in our society who have been left to face its most unpleasant elements.

It is the poor who are most likely to be the victims of crime, and it is they who this Government has failed time and again to help.

A decade of wasted initiatives, and countless billions of pounds spent.

As things got worse and worse.

I've met some of those who live at the sharp end of the failures of Labour Britain.

The mother and daughter imprisoned in their inner city flat by the presence night after night of a gang of drug addicts in the stairwell outside their home.

Addicts who have burgled and robbed their neighbours to get their next fix. And then find it easer to buy more drugs in prison than to get off drugs.

Children from appalling family backgrounds who are sucked into a violent gang culture by a desire to belong to something.

And the families of some of those who have seen young relatives dead or seriously injured by that culture of violence.

A snapshot of a broken society.

Where violence has become routine.

Where the offenders don't seem to give a damn.

Where carrying weapons is increasingly the norm.

Where families can be terrorised by teenage gangs.

And it is our most deprived communities that are at the sharp end of what is going wrong.

The poor who Labour was supposed to help, but who after ten years are struggling more than ever.

We have delved deep into the small print of the official figures on crime and social deprivation - and the picture that emerges is stark.

The most localised measure of deprivation that the Government produces is for what it calls Super Output Areas - divisions of individual electoral wards - normally down to the scale of an individual estate. There are 32,000 such areas around the country.

This week we published a comparison between deprivation in those areas and the level of crime they experience.

Nationally every single one of the areas that rank at the top of the list for deprivation is in the top ten percent for crime.

That picture is repeated across almost every single region of the country.

Areas like Speke in Liverpool, top of the national league table for social deprivation. Violent crime and arson there are up more than 50% in a year.

And like Harpurhey in Manchester - no 2 on the deprivation list and been notorious as one of Britain's most challenged areas, in both the top ten for deprivation and crime nationally. Local police report that crime has been rising fast in the area, despite their best efforts. In the year from April to April, it was up 15%.

That bleak picture is underlined by the most recent British Crime Survey, published in July.

It confirms that it is the poor who are the victims of the surge in violence under Labour.

Nearly half of single parent households and unemployed say fear of crime has a 'high' or 'moderate' impact on their quality of life, compared to average of 35 per cent.

Nearly twice as many people living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas say fear of crime has a 'high' or 'moderate' impact on their quality of life compared to those living in the least deprived areas.

Unemployed people are twice as likely to be a victim of violence than the average, with 7.6 per cent a victim of violence in 2008-09 compared to 3.2 per cent for all adults.

Households with the lowest income (less than £10,000) are the most at risk of violence.

Risk of being a victim of violence was twice as high for those individuals living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in England (4.5%) compared with those in the 20 per cent least deprived areas (2.2%).

Social renters are more at risk of burglary than owner occupiers (4.2 per cent victims in 2008-09 compared to 1.7 per cent).

The unemployed are twice as likely to be a victim of burglary that someone in employment (5.7 per cent vs 2.5 per cent).

There can be no starker indicator of a Broken Society.

Where those who face the biggest challenges in their lives are also those most at risk from the threat of crime and violence.

Creating a downward spiral in those communities in which both the deprivation and the crime simply repeat themselves.

Because it is the social breakdown in our most deprived communities that creates the environment in which crime can flourish, in which disillusioned young people turn to a gang culture, in which violence just becomes a norm.

Many young people are growing up in appalling circumstances that will utterly shape their lives.

Family breakdown has reached a scale where many young people grow up with no vestige of stability in their lives, and no concept of a family-focused upbringing.

Sometimes children do not even have a proper home - being pushed around from relative to relative week by week.

They don't eat proper meals.

They get no educational support. And they fail at school as a result.

They have no concept of bedtime - because no one ever sends them to bed.

They have no barriers about what they can and cannot watch on television.

They are exposed to drugs and alcohol at a ludicrously young age.

They have no one to tell them right from wrong.

So it's hardly surprising that all too often they grow up as the antithesis of model citizens.

Having never felt a sense of belonging to anything.

Having never experienced the positive in life.

And the system reinforces that.

We pay couples to break up, not stay together.

We abandon tens of thousands of children to be brought up in poverty because we fail to help their parents break the benefit trap and rebuild responsibility in their lives.

We devalue marriage and stable relationships out of a perverse sense of political correctness.

So what on earth do we do to turn things round?

To address the root problems of a society where the unacceptable has become the norm.

Let's start by not pretending that it is an easy task.

Twelve months of Conservative government isn't suddenly going to reverse cultural changes going back a generation or more.

Let's also recognise that much of the work that needs to be done will be focused on the challenging backgrounds that too many young people experience as they grow up and which shape their attitudes for life.

Like our radical plans to transform our benefits culture.

To create an environment where it just isn't possible to build a life sitting at home on benefits any more.

I remain convinced that this is the biggest problem at the core of our broken society, and that it has engendered a culture of irresponsibility in many parts of the country.

We should provide much better back to work support to those who are stranded on benefits, but we should insist on community work for the long term unemployed and we should remove benefits from those who will not participate in the journey back to work.

This is the biggest social task facing the next Conservative government, and having worked with him when I held the Shadow Work and Pensions Brief, it is a particular pleasure to me that David Freud has joined us to push that work forward if we do win the election.

It's also about acting early.

My colleague Michael Gove has already set out plans to strengthen early intervention in our schools, and in particular to adopt a much more rigorous approach to helping children who come from deprived backgrounds catch up quickly in key areas like basic reading skills.

But I also want to see early intervention in our criminal justice system.

That's why I want to strengthen the hand of the police to deal with antisocial behaviour among young teenagers. It is the minor acts of vandalism and other troublemaking that sow the seeds of the more serious crimes of tomorrow.

There should be consequences for any unlawful act in our country.

That's how the authorities in US cities like New York have started to restore calm and lawfulness to some of their most deprived areas - by acting early to tackle the minor offences. We need to learn lessons from them.

And we have to ensure that the sanction fits the crime.

Why are so many people found carrying knives let off with a caution? I think that the presumption should be that if someone carries a knife, they will face a custodial sentence.

And why are cautions or light sentences used in cases of violent attacks against strangers? That is wholly wrong and must change.

The whole point about tough penalties is to deter.

It's not about creating an intolerable pressure on our prisons and on our courts.

We will have failed if it does.

The whole point about tougher sanctions is that they are designed to make people think twice.

About the way they live their lives and the things they do.

And an effective sanction is one that catches an offender early, and administers a response that causes immediate nuisance and inconvenience for minor offences, and deals robustly with more serious ones.

At the moment the system is letting communities down.

One of the young gang members I met in Moss Side was under a curfew order. But the courts had been persuaded to lessen its impact. So his curfew now began at 11pm. What kind of message does that send.

But beginning to turn round the blight on many of our most deprived communities isn't just a matter for smarter Government policy in areas like welfare and education, or for a tougher approach to law and order to try to tackle the threat of crime and violence in those communities.

Society does have a big job to do to engage those young people - to give them positive experiences in their lives for potentially the first time. That's why it's not always wrong to take young troublemakers to outward bound centres, or to provide them with improved sporting facilities.

It's also why the voluntary sector is so important, and why the work done by teams like those at the charity Prospex, which I visited this morning, can make so much difference.

Turning young people away from a life that leads to antisocial behaviour and then crime, often fuelled by hopelessness and addiction, is best done within those communities by those who know the problems and how they can be tackled.

This morning I have been talking to some of the people at Prospex about how they are making a difference to some of those from the deprived communities in North London. They are making a difference that politicians can never do.

But Britain also has to become a society where we do not accept the things that are happening. Where those in authority are more emboldened to say no to abusive, antisocial and violent behaviour. And where society backs them firmly when they do.

The alternative is to accept a situation where standards continue to fall, and where the end product of that change is continued warfare with real weapons and real consequences between stupid teenagers on the streets of our cities.

Or street robbery to fund addiction.

And a climate of fear in our poorest areas.

This is the Britain that Labour has abandoned.

Where there is little hope, and where the Government now has nothing to offer people.

Our task is to start to turn things round.

The politics of the left have failed.

The politics of New Labour have failed.

The progressive torch has now passed to a new generation of politicians, from the Conservative Party, who believe we can only transform our country if we break people free from the ghettos in which this Government has left them.

The bullet holes in the window of that house in Moss Side.

The desperate acts of violence

And the gravestones of all the young people who have become the victims of a culture of lawlessness in too many parts of our country...

...are a harsh reality for too many people in too many communities.

....and are the real consequences of a failing in our society that just has to be reversed."

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