(London Post) David Cameron discusses plans to help working families and extend opportunities to all. I said on the steps of Downing Street on May 8 that this would be a ‘one nation’ government, with working people at its heart. In its simplest terms, that means if you want to work hard and get on in life, this government will be on your side.
Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever your background, whatever stage of life you are at, I believe this government can help you fulfil your aspirations. And let me be clear, when I say whoever you are, I mean it.
Whether you voted for me or campaigned against me; whether you are middle income or low paid or not in work at all, whether you live in a leafy suburb or an inner-city community, this government wants to extend opportunity, and what in the election campaign I called a good life, for all. That for me is the ‘one nation’ ideal.
We have taken great strides towards this in the past 5 years. Two million more people in work. Wages rising. More children in good or outstanding schools than ever before. And yet, for all the progress we have made, there are still far too many people in our country unable to reach their potential.
When less than 1 in 10 children in residential care get 5 good GCSEs and when more than 1.5 million children are still living in households where no-one works, I won’t sit back and think the job is done. Far from it. I want everyone in this country to have the opportunity to get on and make a good life for themselves. That is the task for the next 5 years.
And today, I want to set out how we will achieve it.
Long-term economic plan
It starts, quite simply, by continuing to work through our long-term economic plan. Line one, rule one, of any plan to extend opportunity is to ensure a strong economy.
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And a secure and strong economy means getting the deficit down.
I know there are those who think that this is somehow not progressive. But let me tell you this. There’s nothing progressive about asking the next generation to pay off the debts we couldn’t be bothered to deal with; nothing progressive about robbing from our children. There’s nothing progressive about paying more in debt interest than we spend on our schools.
Make no mistake, if we’re running unsustainable deficits, and interest rates are going through the roof it’s working people and children in the poorest families who will suffer the most. If taxes are high, and businesses are firing rather than hiring, make no mistake, it’s working people and their children who will lose out first.
So yes, we will finish the job of the turning the economy around and doing what I call the bread and butter of good government, competently running the economy, offering people the security they need to get on in their lives.
And that is the first step in improving the life chances of everyone in our country.
But today, I want to make a bigger, and deeper, argument about how we realise the ‘one nation’ ideal and help everyone achieve their full potential. It’s an argument that captures social reform as well as economic reform tying in what we are doing with families and schools with what we are doing with welfare and work. And it’s an argument I can act upon more robustly and consistently, now that I lead a majority Conservative government.
It goes like this. When it comes to extending opportunity – there is a right track and a wrong track. The right track is to recognise the causes of stalled social mobility and a lack of economic opportunity. Family breakdown. Debt. Addiction. Poor schools. Lack of skills. Unemployment. People capable of work, written off to a lifetime on benefits. Recognise those causes, and the solutions follow.
Strong families that give children the best start in life. A great education system that helps everyone get on. A welfare system that encourages work – well paid work. These are the drivers of opportunity – and we need to extend them.
The wrong track though, is to ignore the causes, and simply treat the symptoms of the social and economic problems we face. Too often that is what happens. Just take the historic approach to tackling child poverty. Today, because of the way it is measured, we are in the absurd situation where if we increase the state pension, child poverty actually goes up.
So what we have seen in the past is that governments respond by thinking much of the answer is to redistribute money through the tax and benefit system giving families an extra pound here or there so they move from just below the poverty line to just above it. I don’t underestimate for one second the difference that extra money can make. But that isn’t extending opportunity.
It’s papering over the cracks, using welfare to present the veneer of fairness. It’s a poor excuse for shying away from the fundamental reforms that will deal with causes of poverty rather than just its symptoms. And frankly it’s a complacency that has let down so many of those most in need in our country.
We need to focus on tackling the real causes of child poverty. That means looking at what we do to support families. To improve education. To give people the help they need to get into work and support their families. Put simply, how we improve life chances for all. That’s a key aim of the ‘one nation’ ideal.
There’s a similar complacency in how we approach the crucial issue of low pay. There is what I would call a merry-go-round. People working on the minimum wage having that money taxed by the government and then the government giving them that money back – and more – in welfare. Again, it’s dealing with the symptoms of the problem: topping up low pay rather than extending the drivers of opportunity – helping to create well paid jobs in the first place.
So this is the change we need. We need to move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society. Indeed, across the spectrum, as a country we have been too busy picking up the pieces of failure that has gone before. Dealing with anti-social behaviour rather than strengthening families. Managing youth unemployment rather than boldly reforming education. We all know why.
Extending the drivers of opportunity is difficult. It means taking on vested interests – like teaching unions or poorly performing local education authorities and it means talking about things and concepts some people feel uncomfortable about – families, behaviour, the link between effort and reward. Put another way, it’s easier just to sign off another benefit cheque than it is to get people ready for work or discuss the importance of stable family life.
Intolerance of government failure
I am proud that in the past 5 years, we have begun to turn the tide on the failed approach. We’ve put strengthening families, reforming education and transforming welfare at the heart of what we have been doing. But in the next 5 years we have to go so much further – and that begins by recognising something really fundamental.
So many of our country’s efforts to extend opportunity have been undermined by a tolerance of government failure. The failure to look after children in care. The tolerance of sink schools that have failed one generation after another. An acceptance of long-term unemployment among hard-to-reach individuals.
We have to end the complacency that has sometimes infected our national life, that says some problems are too big, and we can put up with second best. For me, when it comes to extending opportunity, the next 5 years will be about a complete intolerance of this government failure.
We know it can be done.
Let’s just take one example – adoption. In the past, some people have found it easier to fly half-way round the world to adopt rather than wait for the case system at home to finish agonising about placing mixed race children with white families and vice versa. We are sorting this out. Sweeping away the ridiculous rules that stop children being placed in a loving home. More than doubling the capacity of voluntary adoption agencies to recruit adopters and securing a quicker approvals process so that adopters can now be approved in just 6 months.
Of course there is much further to go – we need to continue to tackle the obstacles that stand in the way of children being placed with a loving family. But through this work we helped over 5,000 children find a loving home last year, up 63% since 2011. So when I talk about dealing with state failure, I’m not making an anti-government argument. I’m making an argument about ensuring that government works.
Government should never give up on its proper responsibilities. But it has got to stop tolerating failure, just because it is easier to stick with the status quo. Sometimes that will mean taking radical steps to liberate the front line from excessive bureaucracy and paperwork. And sometimes it will mean allowing other organisations like charities, trusts and social enterprises to come in and help do the job.
Just as we have seen here at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy which went from local authority to academy trust and from being the worst performing school in the area to the best. It’s about delivering real change. From building a welfare society to building an opportunity society. From managing state failure to being intolerant of it.
These will be some of the crucial tests for this government – and for my second term as Prime Minister.
First, families. For me, families are the best welfare system there is – so I have never been shy about supporting them in the work they do. Marriage is now recognised in the tax system. Shared parental leave is now available for parents in the first year of their child’s birth.
We are helping more families to get on the housing ladder and own their own home including by building 200,000 starter homes for first time buyers under the age of 40. And to help families when they hit trouble, we have increased funding for relationship support by 50% and we will be investing at least £7.5 million every year for as long as I am Prime Minister. In the next 5 years, we will double free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds in families with working parents.
And because all the evidence shows if you focus on the early years you have the best chance of transforming a child’s life, we will look at how we can create a much more coherent offer to support children and parents in the early years, bringing together all those services targeted at getting children school-ready by age 4.
But I am clear: if we really want to extend opportunity in our country, we need to intervene more directly to help the most vulnerable families in our country.
Our troubled families programme, under Louise Casey, has changed lives. By radically changing the way we deliver services to the hardest-to-reach families in our country, we have tackled worklessness, addiction, truancy and anti-social behaviour. And I can announce today that almost all of the 117,000 families which the programme started working with have now been turned around – in terms of either school attendance or getting a job or both.
This has saved as much as £1.2 billion in the process. And in the next 5 years, we will work with 400,000 more. This is a real government success, and I want to extend this thinking to areas where state institutions have all too often failed.
One area is child protection – and this will be a big focus of the next 5 years. Social workers do a very challenging job, in fraught situations. And we need to help them. So we will recruit the best graduate talent through Frontline – the new equivalent to Teach First to raise the status and standards of the profession. We will train them more rigorously. And we will help good social workers to stay at the frontline, using their professional judgement – not be promoted away from where they are most needed.
We also need more accountability, to end the tragedies. Victoria Climbié in 2000. Baby Peter in 2007. Daniel Pelka in 2012. Killed by evil, manipulative adults, these were all children who were known to social services but for whom no-one ultimately took sufficient responsibility, in a complex landscape of multiple agencies and protocols.
We will bring over the lessons we have learned in education where we have intervened quickly and put failing organisations under new leadership. We will say to any local authority failing its children: transform the way you provide services, or those services will be taken over by non-profit trusts like those in Doncaster, and partnerships like that between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
This is what I mean when I say one nation – extending opportunity to every community in our country.
Next, our education system. The whole purpose of our education reforms is to extend educational excellence and opportunity to every school and community, not just a privileged few. Our academies programme has sent our best heads to the most challenging schools. We have opened hundreds of new free schools in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods.
And we introduced the pupil premium, so more money follows the poorest pupils. Alongside these structural changes, we have set higher standards. A new curriculum that really tests our children, a new emphasis on the subjects of the future, like coding, the most radical improvement in vocational education, including the opening of new University Technical Colleges and as we announced last week, making sure every pupil studies Maths, English, a Science, History or Geography and a language at GCSE.
Today, because of these changes, the doors of opportunity are opening up around the country. Some schools in our poorest neighbourhoods are now sending more children to our best universities than some of our most renowned private schools.
Here at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy, 53 students went on to university last year – 52 were the first in their families to do so. The next 5 years will be about going further, in particular, not accepting any failure in the system – however difficult that may be.
One, we need zero tolerance of the failing schools that still exist within the system. One of the great frustrations of the past 5 years was that because of bureaucratic rules, we could only intervene in 50% of the schools rated ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED. So as part of our Education Bill, we will sweep away these rules and make sure every “inadequate” school will be turned into an academy, with new leadership.
Next we need to improve what I have called ‘coasting schools’. Today the Education Secretary will set out to Parliament the principles we will apply to judge whether schools are coasting. Coasting schools are those where standards have been mediocre for too many years and aren’t improving quickly enough. Schools where standards could and should be higher, given their intake and potential. These include some schools rated ‘Requires Improvement’ – but who aren’t improving quickly enough. And other schools rated ‘Good’ at their last inspection – but which haven’t been maintaining high standards since. They are giving children “just enough” to avoid falling beneath our floor standards.
But frankly “just enough” isn’t good enough for my children, and it shouldn’t be for yours. So we’re going to say to those schools: if you’re not making fast enough progress in raising standards, you have to change and if you can’t do it yourself, you have to become a sponsored Academy and welcome in people with a proven track record of running outstanding schools. Taken together, these changes mean we will turn around 1,000 more failing schools and improve hundreds more coasting schools.
This will all be incredibly difficult to push through. But I see it as a fundamental test of this government to see these reforms through.
Third, to extend opportunity, we need to give all those who can work, the chance to get a decent well-paid job. As George Osborne and Iain Duncan-Smith said yesterday – reforming the damaging culture of welfare dependency and ensuring that work pays is central to our mission to make Britain fit for the future.
We have already come a long way in the last 5 years. In the last Parliament we created Universal Credit so that work would always pay. We capped benefits so we struck the right balance between incentivising work and supporting the most vulnerable. And we set up the largest programme to get people into work since the 1930s with over a million people coming off the main out of work benefits and over 2 million getting into work.
But when it comes to reforming, we still have further to go. I want to be clear about my approach to that reform. It’s a ‘one nation’ approach. Whatever the pressures, we will stand by my promises to protect the most vulnerable – including the most disabled who cannot work because that’s the sign of the compassionate country I believe in.
We will always protect pensioners, because they have earned a secure retirement. And we will always make sure that work pays – so people in work are rewarded.
In particular, that means 2 things.
Helping those unemployed back into work
So we will double down on our reforms to remove perverse incentives in the system, further rolling out universal credit and lowering the benefit cap. And we will do more to improve the employment outcomes for disabled people and for those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
This is a fundamental part of what I called in the election campaign my 2020 vision with 20% more jobs, 20% more university places and a 20% increase in apprenticeship take-up for black and minority ethnic communities by the end of the decade. It goes right to the heart of the One Nation ideal. And it’s as vital for our society as it is for our economy.
It’s one reason why I want National Citizen Service to become a rite of passage for all 16 and 17 year olds, changing attitudes by bringing together young people from every community and giving them the skills they need to get on in life and work.
And it’s also why I want us to continue pioneering world-leading social interventions – like our social impact bonds, so that private and voluntary sector organisations which succeed in helping the hardest to reach get into work can be rewarded with some of the savings they deliver to the taxpayer.
Helping those in work, but on low pay.
That means dealing with the ridiculous merry-go-round I spoke about earlier. That is why we are restoring some of the value of the minimum wage. The minimum wage is rising to £6.70 per hour from October 2015 – the largest real-terms increase since the financial crash and it’s forecast to rise to £8 by 2020 on current projections.
It is why we have increased the amount you can earn without paying tax, saving a typical taxpayer £825 a year, and it’s why we will take 1 million out of tax by increasing the tax free threshold to £12,500.
Add the 30 hours of free childcare we will introduce for working families, and rewards from work, will be even stronger.
By taking on government failure and backing family, education and work we are not just reframing the debate on extending opportunity, we could actually change the lives of many of the most disadvantaged people in our country. People who for generations were given a few extra pounds and expected to accept their fate. People who have grown up thinking that real success was something for other people and that they could never fulfil their dreams.
Within our grasp is the opportunity for every child in Britain to have the chance to go as far as their talents will take them. Building a brighter future is what politics should be about. It’s what I am about.
And it’s what this government will work tirelessly to deliver over the next 5 years.