Mr Dewar said that government was committed to tackling the
challenge of social justice and bringing the excluded back into the
mark the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Mr Dewar said:
'I am here for a reason. I am here because I entered politics - a
long time ago - to give people who live in poverty a chance; to redress the balance in favour of those who have been consistently
disadvantaged. I am here to pledge this government's commitment to
tackling the poverty and social division that affects too many in
Scotland's towns, cities and rural areas. I'm here to tell you about
what is already underway, and the resources that have already been
committed to this task. And I'm here to ask you all to continue your
own efforts, for it is only by working in partnership that we can make a real difference.
'The truth is a society deeply divided, with many simply
disengaging from a system which failed them. A society in which for
the first time the concept of an underclass has a horrible plausibility. Every constituency MP must be aware of the problem. There can be no justification for complacency in a city like mine, where in some large housing schemes over two-thirds of primary school children qualify for free school meals. The problems may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but they have to be recognised and faced. The long fight back has started.
'I appreciate the expectations that you will have of a government which is committed to tackling the challenge of creating social justice. Do not doubt this government's commitment. Do not
expect quick fixes. Do not expect shallow, superficial improvements.
Remember that this government is committed to rigorous financial
discipline. Measure our commitment to social justice by our
commitment to creating the conditions in which it can take root and
grow. Measure our commitment by the fact that this will not come
easily, and it will not come tomorrow. Measure our commitment by
our determination to get it right.
'Poverty is not simple. Tackling it is not a simple. It is not
about putting an extra pound people's pockets this week, with no idea
of what to do about next week. It is about the need for a new way of
tackling problems, a new way of governing. It is about the agenda the
prime minister has set out: social justice, opportunity for all, removing poverty of expectation, bringing the excluded back into the community.
'The tough line we are taking on public spending is not a hair-
shirt exercise. If the public finances are not on a sound footing; if we cannot break out of the old familiar stop-go cycle; then there is little chance of finding the resources for social progress or sustaining that process over the years.
'Poverty is not just about lack of money. It is about poor
housing, unemployment, barriers to educational achievement, poor
health, fear of crime, living in a run-down and degraded environment.
We're talking about whole groups of people who are excluded from the
mainstream of society. We're talking about poverty of hope and
'Scotland faces serious problems - unemployment, poor
housing, ill health, crime, social exclusion - which must be overcome.
But Scotland also has strengths.
'The commitment and ingenuity of the people of Scotland are a
formidable advantage in any field in which they share a common
purpose. I believe we do share a common purpose: tackling social
exclusion, in all its forms, matters not only to the Scottish Office, but to Scots everywhere.
'The Scottish Office has an important role to play. It brings
together and co-ordinates a range of responsibilities spread across half a dozen or more Whitehall departments. I and my ministerial team are determined to make the most of that advantage.
'We have a proud tradition in Scotland of working to tackle
social division. We have developed innovative responses to social
problems, many of which are now being promoted within the UK as
models of good practice. We have a body of people - many of them
here or represented today - who are committed to creating a fairer
society in Scotland.
'And in the not too distant future we will have a Scottish
parliament, which will give us the opportunity to develop Scottish
solutions to Scottish needs, and bring the arm of government closer to
the needs of the people.
'Devolution matters. It will let us take decisions which affect
us here in Scotland. It is an important principle, an end in itself; but it is a means to other ends, and none more important than the creation of a socially cohesive Scotland.'