Published: Monday, February 01, 1999
The Social Exclusion Unit
Atul Patel has recently moved from being the Director of Regulation at the Housing Corporation to a one year secondment at the Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Unit. His remit covers the follow up work to the recently published Government report "Bringing Britain Together: A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal".
His previous posts include Youth and Community Work, Director of Asra Housing Association in Leicester, and Regional Director at the Corporation's East Midlands Office. He also sits on the Selection panel for the Leicestershire Police Authority.
Social exclusion is a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown. In the past, governments have had policies that tried to deal with each of these problems individually, but there has been little success at tackling the complicated links between them, preventing them arising in the first place.
The Social Exclusion Unit was set up by the Prime Minister in December 1997, and is staffed by a mixture of outside experts and civil servants. They come from a number of Government departments and from organisations with experience of tackling social exclusion - the probation service, housing, police, local authorities, the voluntary sector and business. The Unit has a remit to produce 'joined up solutions to joined up problems'. It is tasked with analysing the web of problems that make up social exclusion, and then improving the mechanisms to prevent them happening.
WHO AND HOW
The Unit forms part of the Cabinet Office, and reports directly to the Prime Minister. It works closely with the No10 Policy Unit and policy officials across Whitehall. It does not cover issues which are dealt with by one Government department only, or duplicated work being done elsewhere.
The unit co-ordinates its work with other parts of Government, and keeps in close touch with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices. The Prime Minister steers its work personally.
Outside expertise and knowledge are drawn upon at every level. The Unit consults widely with local authorities, business, the voluntary sector and other agencies, and with people who have direct experience of social exclusion.
THE STORY SO FAR
In its first phase of work to July 1998, the Unit was asked by the Prime Minister to look at three specific issues. They were:
* Truancy and School Exclusion
* Rough Sleeping
* Poor Neighbourhoods
We have reported to the Prime Minister on each of them, with an analysis of the problem and recommendations for action:
Truancy and School Exclusion
The report set a new Government target to reduce by a third the level of truancy and school exclusions by 2002. The report recommended:
* A tougher approach to parents who fail to fulfil their responsibility to ensure their children attend school.
* A new police power to pick up truants.
* Clearer guidance for schools to cut down on inappropriate exclusions.
* Special OFSTED inspections of high-excluding school.
* A requirement that by 2002 all excluded pupils receive full time education.
* Changes to DFEE school performance tables, so exclusion cannot potentially be used to manipulate the reported figures.
* As the problem of exclusions of ethnic minorities is so serious, published performance data on exclusions should be broken down by ethnic group.
* A new drive to improve the school performance of children in care.
The report recommended an action plan to reduce the numbers sleeping rough by two thirds by 2002. This could be achieved by:
* A major programme of prevention, including better preparation for those leaving care, prison or the armed forces, better education for people tempted to leave home, and a more preventive role for housing authorities.
* One person to take charge of the problem in every city, and a new body in London to take over all the different Government programmes targeted on rough sleeping.
* New measures to ensure the New Deal reaches rough sleepers, which helps to break the 'no home no job' cycle.
* Support for mentors to help homeless people find their way back into work.
* A Ministerial Committee in Whitehall to ensure the whole of Government contributes: joined up Government for a joined up problem.
Neighbourhood Renewal - The report gave a detailed picture of the concentration of a range of problems in poor neighbourhoods, each contributing to a cycle of decline - high levels of unemployment, crime and ill health, poor education and concentrations of workless households and ethnic minority communities. It set out the reasons why previous initiatives to deal with this have failed - too many schemes with no 'joining up' of the problems or the solutions, a lack of local involvement, a neglect of what had worked in the past, and too much emphasis on improving the physical environment, and not enough investment in people.
The report set out a range of issues on which urgent policy work is needed. So 18 Policy Action Teams (PATs) of civil servants and outside experts have been set up focusing on these. All the teams will report back over the next year, and come together to contribute to a National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal in 1999. The process is being overseen by Hilary Armstrong, Minister for Local Government and Housing, and each PAT will have a Champion Minister and a Chair drawn from the relevant Government department.
Alongside the publication of the report, the £800 million 'New Deal for Communities' programme was announced. This initiative will provide intensive help to some of the poorest neighbourhoods. The initial 17 Pathfinder areas also provide the opportunity to explore many of the issues the PATs are addressing and test models for tackling particular problems.
Some of the Unit's time will be continued to be spent on following up the truancy and rough sleeping reports, and on the measurement of social exclusion.
The Unit's main priorities are now:
* Follow up work on poor neighbourhoods, leading to the Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal to be unveiled for consultation in the year 2000.
* Two new topics that the Prime Minister has asked the Unit to consider:
1. Teenage parents - we are working with other Departments, building particularly on the work already undertaken by the Department of Health, to develop an integrated strategy to cut rates of teenage parenthood, particularly under age parenthood, towards the European average and propose better solutions to combat the risk of social exclusion for vulnerable teenage parents and their children. We aim to report to Ministers by December 1998.
2. 18 year olds - we are working with other Departments to assess how many 16 to 18 year olds are not in education, work or training, analyse the reasons why and produce proposals to reduce the numbers significantly. We aim to report to Ministers by Easter 1999.
The Prime Minister has appointed a network of Ministers in the Departments working most closely with the Unit, to act as its champions and to help guide and present its work.
Stephen Byers - HM Treasury (Chair)
Hilary Armstrong - Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
John Denham - Department of Social Security
Lord Falconer - Cabinet Office
Peter Hain - Welsh Office
Tessa Jowell - Department of Health
Geoffrey Robinson - HM Treasury
Barbara Roche - Department of Trade and Industry
Lord Sewell of Gilcomstoun - Scottish Office
John McFall - Northern Ireland Office
Paul Boateng - Home Office
Andrew Smith - Department for Education and Employment
SOME KEY UNIT MEMBERS
Moira Wallace, Head of Unit
Geoff Mulgan, No 10 Policy Unit
Jon Bright, Team Leader on Neighbourhood Renewal
Zena Peatfield, Team Leader on Teenage Pregnancy, Follow up to School Exclusion and Truancy and Rough Sleeping
Martin Wheatley, Team Leader on 16 - 18 year olds and youth, Unit central systems and Communications
Paddy Feeny, Press and PR
General Enquiries Press Enquiries
Tel 0171 270 5253 Tel 0171 270 0375
Fax 0171 270 5775/1971 Fax 0171 270 0618
Postal Address: Cabinet Office, Social Exclusion Unit, Horse Guards Road, London, SW1P 3AL
All the Unit's reports, along with other information about its work, are available on its website. General enquiries can be made by e mail.
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