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This chapter is about New Labour’s efforts to reverse the long-running negative impact on urban conditions of concentrated poverty within deprived areas and to break the connection between poor social and physical conditions. It comprises three parts:

  1. the situation New Labour inherited and the development of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal;

  2. the measurable results of the strategy; and

  3. the relationship between wider urban, regional and housing policies and the more focused neighbourhood renewal agenda.

We conclude by assessing the likelihood of future progress.

The multiple problems of poor neighbourhoods are nothing new and have been the focus of urban policy interventions in the UK since the turn of the 20th century (Atkinson and Moon, 1994; Hill, 2000). However, by 1997, there was evidence that some of these problems were getting worse. Divisions between declining cities and industrial areas and small towns and cities and rural areas had been widening for several decades, while the 1980s saw a particular increase in intra-urban polarisation, with growing contrasts between poorer and more affluent electoral wards within cities (Hills, 1995). There was increasing concern about so-called ‘worst neighbourhoods’, with concentrations of poverty and worklessness and the associated problems of high crime and disorder, diminishing and dysfunctional services, empty housing and environmental decay.

New Labour responded in 1997, asking its newly formed Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) to produce a report on neighbourhood problems. The report, Bringing Britain together (SEU, 1998c), identified approximately 3,000 neighbourhoods with common problems of poverty, unemployment, poor health and crime. Public services in these neighbourhoods tended to be less good, with a higher proportion of schools failing their OFSTED inspection and fewer general practitioners (GPs), many of them in substandard premises.

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This chapter examines the way in which education policy has attempted to tackle the evil of ‘ignorance’ and promote social mobility, from the perspectives of policy in 1948 and 2008. It points out that the Butler education reforms were among the first raft of legislation which implemented the post-war Beveridge welfare state, and that these reforms were always an uneasy settlement between the public, private and ‘third’ sector of the welfare state. It discusses how developments in 2008 can be seen as part of the ongoing social and political debate in policy and practice about the role of education in promoting equality of opportunity and social mobility: which of course, is not quite the same as tackling ‘ignorance’ per se.

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Policies and their Consequences since the Crisis

Social Policy in a Cold Climate offers a data-rich, evidence-based analysis of the impact Labour and coalition government policies have had on inequality and on the delivery of services such as health, education, adult social care, housing and employment in the wake of the greatest recession of our time.

The authors provide an authoritative and unflinching analysis of recent approaches to social policy and their outcomes following the financial crisis, with particular focus on poverty and inequality. Through a detailed look at spending, outputs and outcomes the book offers a unique appraisal of Labour and the coalition’s impact as well as an insightful assessment of future directions.

This volume offers a much-awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed ‘A more equal society?’ (2005) and ‘Towards a more equal society?’ (2009).

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This chapter examines inequalities in economic and social outcomes between English regions, and between richer and poorer neighbourhoods, in the period following the financial crisis. It also looks at the policies of Labour and Coalition governments towards spatial inequalities. It finds that despite the finance-led recession, London continued to pull further ahead of other regions economically, and on some social indicators including education and some health outcomes. A new political consensus appeared to emerge around the need for regional economic rebalancing and a new debate about what form a new ‘regional policy’ should take. However, at the same time, there was less focus on the problems of disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the arguments for spatially redistributive social policies for reasons of equity and social justice. In some respects, the distribution of spending also became more disconnected from levels of need in local areas, a move that may lead to greater spatial disparities in the short term

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This chapter analyses spending, outputs and outcomes in relation to schools in England between 2007/8 and 2014/15. Schools were relatively protected from the public spending cuts made by the Coalition government from 2010 onwards, while rapid and extensive reforms were made in almost every aspect of policy. Moves towards a broader vision of schooling under the Labour government from 2007 to 2010 were rapidly overturned by the Coalition, which introduced an increasingly ‘rigorous’ academic curriculum and assessment regime. Major steps were made towards school an autonomous school system, with 61% of secondary schools becoming Academies. Teacher training was radically reformed. Early indications suggest that there are substantial challenges in managing the new system and that despite efforts to support disadvantaged students through a new ‘Pupil Premium’, socio-economic inequalities remain wide and may be even be exacerbated by some of the Coalitions other reforms.

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This chapter analyses spending, outputs and outcomes in relation to further education and skills in England between 2007/8 and 2014/5, as well as policies and trends relating to access to higher education. Expenditure on further education and adult skills training was heavily cut by the Coalition government, after expansion under Labour. Numbers of learners fell and there was no progress in closing socio-economic gaps. Controversial measures to treble university tuition fees did not result in a fall in the proportions of young people going to university or to widening socio-economic gaps, although part time and mature student participation suffered ‘precipitous falls’. The chapter concludes that despite modest progress towards increasing quality and employer engagement, there remain substantial concerns about the post-16 learning and skills system in England and its capacity either to promote increased productivity or greater social justice.

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This chapter examines the success of education policy – Labour’s top priority in every manifesto – in reducing inequalities in educational attainment in compulsory and post-compulsory education. It looks at what happened to educational inequality during this period of investment, growth, and reform. The chapter adopts a conventional approach used in education research, looking at the differences in attainment between different social groups rather than simply at the overall distribution of attainment, thus reflecting historic welfarist aspirations for universal state education as an equalising force in society. It focuses primarily on social-class inequalities in England.

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Labour signalled that education was a policy priority well before the 1997 General Election. In his now famous Labour Party Conference speech in 1996, Tony Blair announced that the three highest priorities in government would be ‘Education, education, education’. In December 1996, Blair outlined Labour Party thinking on education policy; themes, which, as we shall see, have continued to be important since 1997:

I believe there is the chance to forge a new consensus on education policy. It will be practical not ideological. And it will put behind us the political and ideological debates that have dominated the last thirty years. The foundations of the consensus are clear. Early support for children under the age of five. Primary schools delivering high standards of literacy and numeracy. Rigorous assessment of pupil and school performance, and action based upon it. Improved training and qualifications for teachers, especially Heads. Early intervention when things go wrong. Support from all sections of the community to ensure that all our children are given the best possible start. And we must never forget that education is not a one-off event for the under 18s. The new consensus must be based on wide access to higher education and continual opportunities for all adults to learn throughout life. (Tony Blair MP, Speech given at Ruskin College, Oxford, 16 December 1996)

Education also featured in both the 1997 and 2001 election pledges. In 1997, as one of the five ‘early pledges’, Labour promised to cut class sizes to 30 or under for five-, six- and seven-year-olds by using money from phasing out the assisted places scheme.

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This introductory chapter sets out the purposes and scope of the book. The period following the onset of the global financial crisis in summer 2007 was an extraordinary one in British economic and political history. First Labour then coalition governments faced a deep recession and a large hole in the public finances, alongside increasing demographic pressures on public spending. This book describes how they approached social policy in this ‘cold climate’, with topic-by-topic chapters (eg on health, housing and employment policy) as well as cross-cutting accounts on the changing nature of the welfare state, and the effects of policies on poverty, inequality and distribution

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This chapter brings together the book’s findings, concluding that this was indeed an era with a ‘cold climate’ for many areas of social policy. However, it was not a uniform history. There were some strong contrasts between the policies Labour continued to pursue until it lost office in May 2010, and those of its successors, but also sharp differences between social policy areas under the Coalition. Austerity was selective – indeed the pressure on ‘unprotected’ areas was increased by the cost of increased income tax allowances and favourable treatment of pensions. Early years provision, social care for the elderly, and particular working-age benefits were sharply affected. Some areas were comparatively insulated, but still affected by major reform, while in others the role of the state was redrawn or even substantially withdrawn. Much of this conscious reshaping of Britain’s welfare state is set to continue or intensify under the new Conservative government.

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