HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc144-6
15. Mr. Watts

What action he is taking to support the work of the social exclusion unit. [23429]

Mr. Boateng

The work of the social exclusion unit is being supported right the way across Government, by all Departments. Our Department is working closely with the unit as it tackles its initial priority areas, and many other departmental initiatives within the Department—those relating not only to health but to personal social services—have a direct bearing on the wider issues of social exclusion. We shall continue to work on those and to take matters forward with the health action zones, and with our work on drug and alcohol misuse and on family support and early intervention. That is all about tackling the underlying causes of social exclusion, which were too long neglected by the Conservatives.

Mr. Watts

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but may I draw to his attention the fact that my constituents in St. Helens have been left with a legacy of Tory Government reforms that mean that they now have a two-tier health service, with whole areas of poverty-stricken communities excluded from really good health services? What action does the Minister intend to take to ensure that resources are made available to communities such as St. Helens?

Mr. Boateng

We recognise the needs of communities such as St. Helens. Indeed, I was up in my hon. Friend's part of the world only last Friday, and what is happening there is that we are beginning to see the spirit of co-operation replacing the ethos of competition and division that characterised the Conservatives' period in government. It is all about co-operation, not competition. The Government will take forward that agenda, which is welcomed by the people of this country.

Mr. Clappison

Does the Minister agree that ambitious public health targets are of the greatest value to the poorest and neediest people in society? Will he therefore give an assurance that his Government are not considering any watering down of the ambitious public health targets under "The Health of the Nation" strategy established by the previous Government?

Mr. Boateng

We need no lectures from Conservative Members about public health. They did sweet FA about public health when they were in government. We are tackling the issues.

Mrs. Ellman

Does my hon. Friend agree that poor health in constituencies such as mine is the result of poverty, unemployment and poor housing? Will he applaud the initiatives already taken in my constituency, and especially in the Vauxhall area, where health and social services workers are making joint efforts to improve health? Will that encourage him to award Liverpool the status of a health action zone?

Mr. Boateng

The sting is in the tail. We must indeed bear down on inequality across Government, focusing the activities of Departments and recognising that when one Department takes a lead others will have a role to play. That is what it is all about. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health is promoting the work of the social exclusion unit, right the way across the ministerial team, recognising that our work needs to be linked with the good work done by other Departments. That is how the Government will take forward the agenda.