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The will to end social exclusion

The Secretary of State has been mocked for launching a consultation paper on social exclusion while making it clear there is no extra money to tackle the problem. In view of the Government's mishandled attempt to address the costs of welfare by attacking single mothers, the raillery of Opposition spokesmen and the media is understandable.

But it misrepresents a principal purpose of the paper, which is to show that no single agency can help the minority outwith society and that government in all its forms must face the challenge together.

There is, for example, nothing new in the sections on child care and education. The expansion of nursery places, early intervention and out of school learning opportunities get due mentions. But in the cities a frequently cited problem with after-hours classes or opportunities to do homework in school is the lack of suitable buses or the dangers of traversing hostile territory in the evening. Therefore the adjoining section of the paper, on transport policy, is relevant. Unfortunately, it is limited to recognising "the basic accessibility needs of all sectors of society" and promising a White Paper later this year.

Donald Dewar calls for "a partnership approach from all sections of Scottish society". But some of the services needed to tackle social exclusion, such as education, will come within the ambit of Holyrood.

Others, especially social security, will remain the responsibility of Westminster. What will happen to ideas of partnership and co-operation if the approach to social exclusion is politically very different in Edinburgh from London? None of the main parties believes that money could or should be thrown at the problem but welfare is likely to be an area from which MSPs are likely to feel excluded themselves.

Talk of parliamentary powers and inter-agency cooperation means little to those who think that authority is always agin them. Allowing the excluded to determine their own future is a task that goes far beyond politics.

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