A speech worth reading

Terrific speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron on poverty. You can read/view it here. Highly recommended!

Cameron––who heads the Conservative Party––lays out a comprehensive strategy for improving the life chances of those growing up in poverty. That involves an active government in both the economic and social challenges that the poor face.

Cameron starts with the importance of economic growth and proposes insuring that through what would be called here a business friendly agenda. But unlike most conservatives in Michigan and across the U.S. he doesn’t believe that will necessarily lift all boats or that the only missing ingredient is personal responsibility. He writes:

I believe the free market has been, by far, the best tool ever invented for generating prosperity and improving living standards. … But some people get left behind, even as the market transforms our economy and the rest of society with it.They haven’t been equipped to make the most of the opportunities presented to them – and a chasm exists between them, and those who have been able to take advantage. Now I believe in self-reliance and personal responsibility – I think that’s absolutely correct. But we have to recognise that this alone is not enough – so if we want to transform life chances – we’ve got to go much deeper.

His proposals for going much deeper start with economic security. He states:

Individuals and families who are in poverty crave security – for them, it’s the most important value of all. But those who are struggling often have no security and no real chance of security. The economy can’t be secure if we spend billions of pounds on picking up the pieces of social failure and our society can’t be strong and cohesive as long as there are millions of people who feel locked out of it. So economic reform and social reform are not two separate agendas they are intimately connected to one another. And that social reform begins – as I set out 3 months ago in Manchester – with an all-out-assault on poverty.

He understands that security means a government safety net. He continues: “I am not against state intervention. I’m the Prime Minister who started the Troubled Families programme – perhaps the most intensive form of state intervention there is. And I support the welfare state. I believe the creation of those vital safety nets was one of the outstanding achievements of post-war Britain.” His safety net is anchored by the Universal Credit (something akin to our Earned Income Tax Credit but for those with preschool aged children available without a working parent) and the National Living Wage (something like our minimum wage).

Cameron argues that more economic security is not enough to reduce poverty. He argues:

But to really defeat poverty, we need to move beyond the economics. We need a more social approach. One where we develop a richer picture of how social problems combine, of how they reinforce each other, how they can manifest themselves throughout someone’s life and how the opportunity gap gets generated as a result.

Above all, we need to think big, be imaginative not just leaving behind the old thinking, but opening ourselves up to the new thinking. For instance, the pioneering research that shows us why some children from poor families can climb right to the top while others seem condemned almost from birth to a life of struggle and stress.

And there are 4 vital, social insights that I believe must anchor our plan for extending life chances.

First, when neuroscience shows us the pivotal importance of the first few years of life in determining the adults we become, we must think much more radically about improving family life and the early years.

Second, when we know the importance not just acquiring knowledge, but also developing character and resilience there can be no let-up in our mission to create an education system that is genuinely fit for the 21st century.

Third, it’s now so clear that social connections and experiences are vitally important in helping people get on. So when we know about the power of the informal mentors, the mixing of communities, the broadened horizons, the art and culture that adolescents are exposed to, it’s time to build a more level playing field with opportunity for everyone, regardless of their background.

And fourth, when we know that so many of those in poverty have specific, treatable problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, poor mental health we’ve got to offer the right support, including to those in crisis.


In the speech Cameron outlines specifics in four areas: Families and the early years; Education; Opportunity; and Treatment and support. There are too many recommendations to go into in a post. You can get the details by reading or listening to speech. The recommendations are quite comprehensive. Reading/viewing the speech also will give you the thinking and social science research behind the recommendations. It will be time well spent.


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