David Blackburn

Perverse though it sounds, prisons can be a haven for opportunity

Perverse though it sounds, prisons can be a haven for opportunity
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So much of the welfare debate is lost in jargon and the numbingly large and depressing numbers. John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has just been on The Daily Politics and he condensed the specious waffle into plain but evocative sound bites.

‘You don’t have a broken society without a broken system. The usual suspects come in and advise Blair, Brown and now Cameron that what you need is money for the poor. The poor don’t need more money; the poor need more opportunity.’

Bird admitted that prison made him upwardly mobile. He left it being able to read, write and paint, and was given the confidence to pursue his entrepreneurial instinct. Bird and his experience of prison are, of course, exceptional but that should not lessen his input in the efforts to smash entrenched worklessness and the social dislocation it causes. (It must also impact prison reform.)

Bird concluded: ‘the welfare system should be a trampoline, not a way of life.’  He urged that welfare spending be reduced and transferred to schemes that will create opportunity, which is broadly what IDS plans.

Hazel Blears was on the programme and stated the obvious but often ignored truth that all relevant public services need to be coalesced if this issue is to be arrested. Health services, education, training for low skilled jobs, probation officers, remedial initiatives for prisoners and the voluntary sector might all be addressing people from the same ‘trouble families’, why not make them work together? Harmonious, interlinked services must work more effectively than the current mesh of competing institutions and handouts.