David Blackburn

IDS’ great expectations

IDS’ great expectations
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There is no rest for IDS. Yesterday he was in Madrid talking about youth unemployment and immigration and today he turns his attention to child poverty. Of all life's accidents, the accident of birth is the most decisive. It is said that a child’s prospects are determined by the age of five, and numerous other statistics and factoids lead to a similar conclusion. IDS rehearses some in a piece in today’s Guardian.

IDS and Labour MP Graham Allen have conducted a report into these matters, and have concluded that early intervention in a child from a deprived or broken family is vital if the poverty gap is to be closed, and for opportunity and prosperity to be extended. Therefore, investment will be made in children’s projects designed to improve literacy and interpersonal skills, which should discourage anti-social behaviour crime, drug use and entrenched worklessness – those sinister rites of passage that bedevil inner cities and the often forgotten suburban slums in the provinces.

But, how to pay for it? IDS and Allen concede that the state is destitute, so the government is to incentivise social investment from the private and voluntary sectors, in much the same way as employers and community groups are being encouraged to employ ex-cons. IDS promises that investors will receive a ‘return draw’ from the savings he envisages to make in the welfare budget as a whole.

His plan is carefully couched so as not to politicise the issue. But his Guardian article subtly exudes the sense that state intervention alone has been tested to destruction, ‘Two babies born on the same maternity ward in 2011 are still at risk of the same great divergence as they were back in 1999, despite everything we know about the importance of early intervention in making a difference to a child's life. This shows that there is so much more that has to be done.’ So change is necessary if all are to have great expectations. Figuratively speaking, the stately Miss Havisham was an inept benefactor, unlike grubby Magwitch.

However, there will be those, many of them sitting on the Conservative backbenches, who doubt that any of this will succeed unless people are discouraged from having children they cannot afford, and that the institution of marriage is recognised in the tax system. Dickens' Pip would have been nothing, you see, without Joe Gargery as a father figure.