THE Government should be judged by its social justice agenda, the Minister for Communities told a Glasgow seminar last week.
Wendy Alexander said her colleagues had "a real obsession" to take millions of children out of poverty and substantial progress had already been made in Scotland in jobs, schools, and housing.
The Scottish Executive has set 10 long-term social justice targets for the year 2020 to "defeat child poverty within a generation".
These include an increase in the proportions of children who reach 5-14 level A by the end of P2 and level D by the end of P7 in reading, writing and maths, and halving the estimated one in five of 16 to 19-year-olds who are not in education, training or a job.
There are also 29 more immediate "milestones" such as improving the performance of the bottom 20 per cent of Standard grade pupils and reducing school exclusions by a third.
But Ms Alexander admitted there were "cultural barriers" to effective progress. She suggested there should be a national skills programme to break down these barriers, including considering how to promote continuous professional development across different occupations.
The seminar was organised jointly by Glasgow and Strathclyde universities as part of their Synergy for the Scottish Parliament policy research initiative.
Helen Fawcett, from the department of government at Strathclyde University, said there were problems implementing policies combating social exclusion since it is very difficult to define social inclusion. "For example, one issue relating to social exclusion is the entire issue of education at all ae levels from school-age children to access to higher education in working life. The difficulty the government has had in combating social exclusion has probably led it to take a more traditional stance and to start an overt campaign against child poverty."
Professor Duncan McLennan, special adviser on social policy to the Executive, said that though some initiatives had taken place, Scotland still lacked "really extensive evidence" about the different factors that need to change to promote more effective social justice.
"The best form of social justice programme is one that creates jobs and incomes," Professor McLennan said. "We've got to strike a balance between supporting people who are in difficulty now and making sure that adequate resources go to education to improve skill levels which allow people to compete in the global economy, to go into research and higher education to develop the kind of skills and companies we need. Educational policy makes a huge difference to the way in which social justice gets delivered over something like 10 or 20 years."
Patterns of inequality in education are still being maintained, even though there has been an increase in the numbers of young people gaining qualifications, according to Professor Andy Furlong, head of the sociology department at Glasgow University.
He suggested more flexible hours of study in higher education to help young people: "There are pressures on many of them to work quite long hours to support themselves and perhaps university courses don't really reflect that because they are all based on an old full-time day study model."