Whatever one’s politics, there is little doubt that in his Party Conference speech the Prime Minister set out his agenda for the next five years with clarity and no small degree of passion.
In the following hours and weeks it will be examined, questioned, praised an/or sceptically evaluated, and in future months and years he will be held to account, as indeed he should be.
There was one section of his address however, where there can surely be widespread consensus, and one upon which the Church of England’s incoming General Synod might perhaps take a supportive position without risk of accusation of political partisanship.
I refer to that section in which the Prime Minister addressed the problems of those whose start in life was blighted, leading to institutional care.
The prognosis for such young people is unbelievably bleak. The PM was absolutely right to identify this as a priority.
If you have had such a poor start to life, so that the State intervened in your family and became your “Statutory Parent”, your life prospects have plunged from that point on. One does not have to apportion blame as one remarks upon this, but simply look at the historical statistical outcomes.
Such a young person will be highly unlikely to achieve 5 reasonable GSE’s; university education is incredibly rare.
One’s prospects of falling into crime, homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, mental illness or suicide, are very high indeed, and if there are children – which is more likely than not, they will statistically be highly likely to repeat the cycle. Few areas of publicly funded failure have such long lasting or cruel consequences.
When we hear folk speak of the alienated “under-class”, those with a history of being parented by the State will feature with excessive prominence within the cohort.
These outcomes will occur despite the whole process having cost the State a fortune. It is wasteful on every level, not least in the spoiling of human potential.
Yet it does not have to be like this. There are rare examples of people from difficult backgrounds making it against the odds, and no better example currently exists, than the present Justice Minister, Michael Gove who was himself an adopted child.
That gives Brother Ivo hope.
Mr Gove has responsibility for the prison service in which so many of those who began life like him currently languish. He seems to have a sense that ” there but for the grace of God go I’ and if he ever appears to lose that sense, he may be properly reminded of it as he goes about his reforming work. Such work will complement the work of the Home Secretary and Children’s Minister in this multi-faceted field.
Surely nothing the Prime Minister said on this subject can be controversial or sensibly denied?
Neither Party has a decent record on the subject so political point scoring by either side is unsustainable; one hopes a joint determination to go forward from here is possible.
Our Churches should be at the forefront of encouraging the Government in its endeavours within this area, yet we also need to be sympathetic critics, monitoring performance of the specific policies that flesh out the fine aspirations.
If we are to lift the alienated underclass, which all politicians aspire to achieve, it plainly makes sense to first stop adding to it. Already there are moves to preserve such youngsters within a stable family orbit beyond technical adulthood, but we need to do so much more.
This is one of those areas where strong supportive funding does make sense; such is the accumulation of costs “downstream” if early intervention is unsuccessful, that a focus on intensive investment, innovation and the developing of consistent, long lasting, supportive relationships is wholly justified.
If the Churches cannot find a supportive role within this project, it will scarcely be able to lecture either Government or Society on the “socially relevant Gospel” again.