There is no doubt that extreme poverty exists in parts of London cheek by jowl with extreme wealth, and the Evening Standard this week is doing a fine job of reporting with sympathy and balance a few of the individual stories of the 'dispossessed'. With the exception of the horribly irritating phrase 'she fell pregnant' which the subs should have edited (eleven times in the case of the woman, below, who's had eleven children by five different fathers) and is used with depressing repetition, the articles paint a picture of a class of people whose physical, intellectual, emotional and moral capacities are unequal to taking responsibility for their own lives.
What is clear is that not only does Brown's redistributive economic policy not work, but Labour's culture of Welfarism has actually made the problem worse. What many of the underclass suffer most from is indifference; no one cares what they do to themselves. There are no neighbours or local leaders to chastise them, communicate standards of morality and behaviour and demonstrate the joy of belonging. The very class of people most in need of guidance, support and supervision from civil society, those with the most diminished capacity, are those least likely to get it, and because it's not the State's job to provide these things, no one does. So they farrow like fecund sows, flounder in improvidence, degrade eachother and their pens and live short, unhappy and desperate lives. Simon Jenkins has the kernel of it in his comment to the piece;
In 19th-century London that sort of local welfare came first from parish and corporate charities and then from the early London municipalities. By the end of the Second World War, London's borough and metropolitan health and welfare authorities were the envy of Europe. That is true no more. The freedom to innovate and decide local priorities has, since the Eighties, been removed to central government, where it rests inert to this day.
Excessive state regulation has sapped the philanthropic urge and disempowered communities. Tens of thousands of Londoners are clearly falling through the net. The reason is that Whitehall tries only to meet the target, not the need.
I doubt if the cases described in the Standard this week can ever be cured by central government action, however much money is hurled at surveys, consultants or task forces. Look at the fate of the “homelessness initiative” or countless wars on drugs. Nor is there likely to be new money, as the public sector girds itself for fewer resources and fewer people in years to come.
I would delegate much of London's welfare fiercely down to boroughs and below, to community and neighbourhood councils, letting them levy small local taxes to relieve the acute poverty which they, and probably no one else, see around them.
But another answer lies in an unfashionable quarter, in reverting to the voluntary and charitable sector from which London's welfare state emerged. We thought we could do without soup kitchens, the Salvation Army, church day centres, charity lying-in hospitals, citizens advice and private colleges. Now I am not so sure.