HC Deb 03 July 2002 vol 388 cc209-11
3. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

What progress has been made by the social exclusion unit towards reducing the number of people classed as socially excluded since June 2001. [64156]

The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women(Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The social exclusion unit delivers long-term strategies for tackling specific aspects of social exclusion. It is not possible to get comparative figures for June 2001, but good progress has been made. For example, there has been a 71 per cent. reduction in the number of people sleeping rough since June 1998, and the proportion of teenage parents in Great Britain who are in education, employment or training rose to 29 per cent. in 2001, compared with 18 per cent. in 1997.

Kevin Brennan

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In relation to the social exclusion unit's work with ex-prisoners, 58 per cent. of whom reoffend after their release, is she sure that, having been tough on crime by putting people in prison, we are tough enough on one of the main causes of crime, namely social exclusion, when they come out?

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to tackle reoffending rates. Figures show that something like I million crimes a year are committed by those coming out of prison after serving sentences, which is why we need to do something with prisoners from the moment they start their sentence. This is what the new plan is all about, and we will come back with detailed proposals shortly.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I am sure that the Minister agrees that one of the most socially excluded groups of people are young people who have been excluded from school, many of whom drift into crime, drug dependency and underachievement. Does she agree that until we have a clear and coherent strategy on what to do with excluded young people, we will never get to the heart of the problem? What is the Minister's strategy, and how is it progressing?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention those who have been excluded from school, who might give in to the temptations of crime or become very vulnerable. That is why we have pupil referral units, which are very successful. There are also programmes in schools which have seen a drop in the number of pupils who are excluded permanently. However, there is clearly a lot more that we want to do, which is why the Department for Education and Skills is taking forward this strategy.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Regarding the social exclusion unit's study into transport obstacles faced in trying to get unemployed people back into work, will my hon. Friend look at ways of incentivising employers to lay on coaches to get people to work? That form of transport is an efficient means of getting people to work; it is also flexible and possibly the only means of getting people in rural areas to work. Will she consider that possibility?

Mrs. Roche

We will certainly look at that very important matter. There is no doubt that in looking to regenerate communities, whether urban or rural, which have high levels of unemployment among certain groups of people, particularly the young, transport is a factor. We will discuss the issue with employers and consider my hon. Friend's comments.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth)

What involvement has the Deputy Prime Minister's Office had in discussions on tackling social exclusion in Scotland where, under a Labour Government, one in three children continues to be brought up in poverty and one in four of our pensioners lives in poverty?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Lady is right to talk about the problems of social exclusion. That is exactly why we have the social exclusion unit in England, and why the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament have been active in this area. They have made a number of proposals and my officials in the unit are in close contact with others in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington. North)

London has the highest rate of child poverty in England and two thirds of the most deprived council estates in England. To the Government's considerable credit, child poverty has been cut in all regions of the United Kingdom but, in London in the late 1990s, child poverty remained constant. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, in terms of tackling social exclusion, London will get its fair share of resources in the comprehensive spending review and the standard spending assessment calculations to be announced shortly?

Mrs. Roche

As a London Member of Parliament, I understand the picture that my hon. Friend presents, but the Government have moved a long way to tackle those issues. I will certainly pass on her views to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.