Think Tanks

Compassionate Conservatism

12 Jul 2010 10:47:30

Centre for Social Justice sets out tough approch to get addicts off drugs and alcohol

Ken Clarke recently caused a flurry when he said that short sentences should be scrapped.  The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which this morning published a Green Paper on Criminal Justice and Addiction, agrees with him - as the paper makes clear.

The media may thus pick up this one element of the report, causing some to claim that the CSJ's "soft on crime".  A fairer reading is that the proposals set out on the Green Paper, viewed as a whole, represent "tough love", inspired by the compassion-imbued, Christianity-inspired vision characteristic of the institution.

Key recommendations include -

  • Scrapping the National Treatment Agency for drug addicts and replacing it with an Addiction Recovery Board charged with getting addicts off drugs and alcohol through, for instance, greater use of pioneering recovery communities.
  • A zero-tolerance approach by the police to anti-social behaviour with every officer given the freedom to exercise common-sense and discretion and intervene immediately to nip in the bud loutish behaviour.
  • Electing new crime and justice commissioners to bring control of local policing back into local hands.
  • Abolishing the expensive, bureaucratic and remote National Offender Management System (NOMS) and replacing it with local trusts working closely with communities and elected police commissioners.
  • A renewed assault on drug and alcohol use in prison to include tougher enforcement through the greater use of sniffer dogs and drug testing and rehousing inmates in secure community rehabilitation centres.
  • A second chance Act to enable and assist people with a criminal record to find stable employment

The proposals sound like a mix of greater localism, a prison crackdown on illegal drugs and a transformation of the state agencies that deal with rehabilitation.

Paul Goodman

6 Jul 2010 17:14:35

Hungry people use emergency food banks because of delay in getting benefits paid

Philip Blond of Respublica has highlighted an increasing emergency use of Britain's 65 food banks.

He blogs:

"The reasons people find themselves in a scenario where they or their families face genuine hunger are varied but in rough order of importance they are:

  • benefit delay
  • debt,
  • low income,
  • redundancy,
  • family break up, and
  • mental or physical ill-health.

In those areas where food banks operate, front line professional carers give vouchers for those they assess in real need to access their food banks. Social workers, health visitors, citizens advice staff and housing support and youth offending teams all can refer, but one of the most crucial referrers who assess and identify genuine and crisis need is the job centre. Yet here staff, many of whom want to help their service-users in this way, have been forbidden by the previous government from giving out food vouchers...

According to information from the Trussel Trust - one of the charities behind the [food bank] network - in the last 12 months over 41,000 people across the UK received emergency food from these charity foodbanks, a 70% increase on the previous year. Of these, 35% (14,350 people) were referred to the foodbank due to benefit delay."

There appear to be two key problems here:

(1) The benefits system and its failure to pay people promptly;

(2) The last government's ban on job centres making referrals to voluntary sector help.

Over to you Mr Duncan Smith.

3 Jun 2010 12:13:45

Britain IS socially mobile says Civitas report

Screen shot 2010-06-03 at 12.12.57 A new report from the Civitas think tank slams as "absurd" a recent claim by the Conservative Party that social mobility has 'ground to a halt'.

The report - Social Mobility Myths - by Peter Saunders of the University of Sussex notes the following:

  • Dividing the working population into three social classes (professional-managerial, intermediate, and 'working'), more than half of us are in a different class than the one we were born into.
  • Movement between classes in Britain is roughly the same as elsewhere in the western world.
  • At least 3 different studies show social fluidity is still increasing (especially for women).
  • If we look at all children in the top quarter of the ability range, 65% of them end up in professional/managerial jobs and only 5% end up in manual working class jobs.
  • Ability is well over twice as important as class origins, three times more powerful than the degree of interest parents show in their child's schooling, and five times more powerful than parents' level of education or the aspirations which parents have for their children. Talent and hard work are the two key factors in class placement.

Saunders worries that wrong beliefs about social mobility have led to bad public policy including:

  • The preoccupation with expanding entry into higher education, even at the expense of academic standards;
  • The 'grade inflation' unleashed by pushing ever-increasing numbers of pupils through GCSEs and A-levels;
  • Moves towards 'positive discrimination' in university selection designed to make it harder for bright, middle class applicants to get accepted;
  • The fallacious belief that flattening the income distribution through higher taxes and more generous welfare benefits will promote mobility.

The full report can be purchased via Amazon.

18 May 2010 07:26:57

Respublica sets out policy agenda for social enterprises

Venturesoc_1 A new report from Respublica, the think tank of Philip Blond, focuses on helping social entrepreneurs. It argues that only 1% of Britain's 238,000 social enterprises receive the support they need.

The report by Asheem Singh - The Venture Society - calls for a network of 'community lablets' across the country that would act as "incubators for new social enterprises by providing the basic infrastructure, advice and funding to dramatically boast the number of start-up enterprises."

Other recommendations of the report:

  • Social Labs would get the power to approve new flexible venture-lite structures for social start ups funded by community lablets.
  • The creation of a Bureaucracy Task Force that would cut the burden of regulation on early stage social entrepreneurs.
  • A switch in funding from existing social enterprise programmes to provide greater support towards start-up costs and local infrastructure.
  • In the longer term, the report backs the development of a capitalised social investment bank, targeted tax breaks for new investment vehicles and a community reinvestment act.
  • Formalise the process by which service delivering Whitehall departments pay for the demand reduction benefits of social ventures.
  • Place the responsibility for implementing this ambitious programme and new structure of community lablets and social hubs with the Cabinet Office.
The report concludes by recognising the dire state of the public finances and claiming that these changes can be made from within existing departmental budgets.

Full PDF here.

5 Apr 2010 08:07:05

The IEA and TPA condemn Cameron's plan to train 5,000 community workers

CPP_Conservative_party_344 Last week David Cameron announced plans to recruit and train 5,000 community workers as part of his 'Bigger Society, Smaller Government' agenda.

The idea has been condemned by Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs...

"It’s all very well for the Conservatives to wax lyrical about the merits of a post-bureaucratic age, but their prescriptions for society’s ills do seem to involve employing a large number of bureaucrats."

...and questioned by Matt Sinclair of The TaxPayers' Alliance:

"There is clearly a huge risk that the organisers could use their position to take up political causes and push those that fitted with their own views."

Matt Sinclair is right to be worried about the politicisation of community activists but he must also appreciate the need for better advocacy on disadvantaged estates. Clergy were once very powerful advocates for urban communities. Faith community leaders, because they were resident on estates, provided a voice for the voiceless when professional workers retreated to the suburbs at 5.30pm. The decline of the church's urban witness and the the general retreat of faith has left some communities without a voice. The Pilkington tragedy might not have happened if a community advocate had been able to bang heads together and forced officialdom to address the failure of the police and other statutory services to protect a vulnerable family from the terrible torment that ended in suicide for Ms Pilkington. The middle classes have always been better at accessing schools, hospitals and public services. Building similar capacity in disadvantaged neighbourhoods is no bad thing.

For Mark Littlewood the only thing that is necessary is for government to step back and civil society will blossom again. "Private groups of citizens," he blogs, "will spring up spontaneously and take positive action if government gets out of the way." I fear this is libertarian utopianism. Some individuals are so broken that they need intervention to help them stand on their own two feet. That certainly was the lesson of US welfare reform where the long-term unemployed needed all sorts of help with transport and self-esteem in order to leave welfare and the culture of welfare behind. Can we expect children who've never been properly parented to become good parents automatically? Can we expect communities that have only lived under the dead hand of the state to become vibrant centres of voluntarism without all sorts of supportive advice?

Any Cameron government needs to take the Littlewood/Sinclair warnings seriously but it's more important that it works with genuine civil society organisations to build the kind of welfare and family support services that so many communities lack.

The challenge for London's think tanks is to propose alternative ways of rebuilding the social infrastructure that lies betwen the individual and the state and, which we can all agree, the big state has usurped.

28 Mar 2010 15:31:51

Thatcher failed says self-styled Red Tory, Phillip Blond, as he launches twenty policy ideas

Screen shot 2010-03-28 at 15.27.50 Phillip Blond, founder of the Respublica think tank, launches his new book tomorrow - 'Red Tory'.

The book is an attack on the left and the right. He argues that libertarian individualism and centralised socialism are different sides of the same coin, distracting us from what matters most, civil society:

“Under the auspices of both the state and the market, a vast body of disenfranchised and disengaged citizens has been constituted. They have been stripped of their culture by the Left and their capital by the Right, and in such nakedness they enter the trading floor of life with only their labour to sell. Proletarianised and segregated, the individuals created by the market-state settlement can never really form a genuine society: they lack the social capital to create such an association and the economic basis to sustain it.”

Ultimately, he claims, Margaret Thatcher failed to create a “free, diverse and propertied society” although she did kick “down the rotten infrastructure of the postwar settlement”. She failed because she was a liberal rather than a conservative.

His book, now on sale, sets out the following policies*:

  1. Give employees ownership of public services;
  2. Scrap school catchment areas to enable real choice for parents;
  3. New small regional banks;
  4. New economic model for the poor;
  5. Scrap pensioner tax relief for the poor and redirect money into asset creation programme for the poor;
  6. Convert Government bank shares into investment vouchers for the poor;
  7. Transfer Council assets to local communities;
  8. Community Land Trust;
  9. Jobless to work as volunteers without losing benefits;
  10. Time-banking: Plan for volunteers to exchange skills with time as a currency;
  11. Adjustable business rates: poor areas given power to cut business rates;
  12. Small cheap loans for the poor;
  13. Child Trust Funds (CFTs) to be enhanced;
  14. Scrap Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to fund financial literacy classes in school;
  15. Support micro finance;
  16. Break up big banks;
  17. Create Necessities Price Index (NPI) to reflect true costs facing the poor;
  18. Mutualise the Post Office;
  19. Force banks to invest in social enterprises.
* Twenty policies were promised in the press release but only 19 were listed.

2 Nov 2009 16:32:00

Reforming the criminal justice system


"Order in the Court - restoring trust through local justice" (PDF)

Authors: Centre for Social Justice Courts and Sentencing Working Group chaired by Martin Howe QC

Publication date: 2 November 2009

This report makes a series of recommendations on the reform of magistrates' courts, the probabation service and prisons. It also addresses issues central to the criminal justice system such as sentencing and the rights of victims. In addition the report looks into the treatment of criminals with addictions and mental health problems. The authors suggest a series of proposals to make the criminal justice system fairer and to enable local people to have more say in the process.

29 Oct 2009 12:22:00

The problems in assessing child poverty

Policy Exchange

"Poverty of Ambition - Why we need a new approach to tackling child poverty" (PDF)

Authors: Peter Saunders and Natalie Evans (Editor)

Publication date: 29 October 2009

The report is highly critical of the indicators used by the Labour Government to assess child poverty especially the reliance on income in defining poverty. The authors argue that this is problematic as much of the income data is incomplete and misleading and incomes fluctuate massively depending on economic factors. As a consequence it is extremely difficult to quantify whether child poverty has gone up or down during Labour's time in office. The report calls for the Government's child poverty targets to be replaced.

30 Sep 2009 10:57:00

Re-working the welfare system


"Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works, Part I" (PDF)

"Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works, Parts II and III"(PDF)

"Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works, Appendices"(PDF)

"Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works, Executive Summary" (PDF)

"Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works, Preface by the Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP"(PDF)

Authors: Centre for Social Justice Economic Dependency Working Group, chaired by Dr Stephen Brien

Publication date: September 2009

This report acknowledges that the benefits system is broken and has perpetuated poverty and worklessness. There are 5.9 million people of working age not working and receiving state benefits along with nearly one million young people not in education, employment or training. This reports suggests a comprehensive reform of the benefits and taxation systems in order to ensure more people are incentivised to return to work and in order to address poverty among the most vulnerable in society.

3 Aug 2009 11:01:00

How to simplify the benefits system


"Benefit simplification - how and why it must be done" (PDF)

Author: David Martin

Publication date: 3 August 2009

The report calls for an integrated system of administering benefits to remove complexity and inefficiency in the benefits system. The author argues that creating a single agency to administer benefits will assist those who are genuinely entitled to receive benefits by increasing transparency and reduce the scope for benefit fraud.