Iain Duncan Smith – 2013 Speech to Social Justice Conference

Ian  Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith

Below is the text of the speech made by Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to the Social Justice Conference on 30th October 2013.


Let start by saying thanks to our chair for today, Naomi Eisenstadt.

And thanks also to the other speakers, whose contributions will no doubt be the starting point for much debate and discussion.

It is a pleasure to be here, to mark the second annual social justice conference. Thank you all for coming.

I was struck, in the run-up to today, by the significance of these 2 years.

From nought to 2 – so often a formative period in an individual’s lifecycle, as the many advocates of early intervention in this room will tell you…

…they have also, I believe, proved decisive for us.

On entering government, we published the Social Justice Strategy.

That was about posing a landmark challenge to the status quo…

… even in the face of scepticism and uncertainty… establishing a radical new vision for how we support Britain’s most disadvantaged individuals and families.

We recognised that a new approach was needed – one founded on early intervention to prevent problems from arising in the first place, alongside tackling the root causes of disadvantage to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.

Since then, making that vision a reality has required an enormous cultural shift.

From top-down, to bottom-up. From national to local. Reactive to preventative. Dependence to independence.

It has not always been easy, and there is still a great deal to do, but the last 2 years have shown that this far-reaching cultural change can be achieved.


As you all well know, when it comes to tackling social problems, the media focus is often overwhelmingly on welfare reform.

Rightly so, for welfare reform is vitally important.

But that focus too often obscures the inspiring and crucial work that people like you are leading, to improve the lives of the worst off.

Since publishing the strategy, we have made substantial progress against over 100 social justice commitments.

Even in tough times, we are seeing striking positive signs:

– 429,000 fewer people out of work than a year ago, and the lowest proportion of children living in workless households since records began

– in schools, the unacceptable attainment gap between disadvantaged youngsters and the rest is at last narrowing – for teenagers taking GCSEs last year, a far greater improvement in equality than any we’ve seen for a decade

– on our streets, we are seeing continued overall falls in police-recorded violence in England and Wales

– and there is an increasing proportion of people successfully completing treatment for addiction in England – the latest stats showing 13,000 more people leaving rehab entirely drug-free compared to 3 years earlier

– crucially, in terms of new ways of delivering this social change, we now have 14 social impact bonds up and running, making the UK a world leader… and a social investment market which by some estimates, stands to be worth £1 billion by 2016

Local solutions

All of this marks a strong beginning, which gives us every chance of success in years to come.

And today, it is right that we mark this progress by bringing together representatives from across the public, private, voluntary, and social enterprise sectors…

… those of you who have set to work in delivering social justice, putting our strategy into action.

In facing up to our most challenging social problems – be it worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction, or debt – I have long believed that the answers were not to be found in Whitehall.

That mistake was made too often in the past. And as a result, the government approach to tackling social breakdown too often overlooked complexities at a local level…

… allowing vested interests to obstruct change, and preventing dynamic new approaches from moving forward.

Despite good intentions, it is my belief that we achieve far less from sitting in ivory towers drawing scientific conclusions on social policy…

…and far more from listening to people on the ground, freeing up grassroots organisations to apply their insights, and working together with experts to deliver practical solutions.

Social justice awards

Local initiatives and local leadership hold the key to unlocking social justice.

We know, from the many projects already underway, that new local approaches to funding and delivering services are producing better outcomes for those most in need.

Nothing illustrates this better than the work of the individuals and organisations nominated for today’s inaugural social justice awards.

The finalists that have been chosen are people committed to helping those on the margins to rejoin society…

… people who are offering addicts and offenders a chance to change…

… people who are committed to ensuring individuals get the help they need to get a job and realise their potential.

This is inspirational work, and I would like to congratulate all of you on your success, especially the winners who will be announced later today.

It is to your credit – you, and others championing social justice – that we have achieved such progress against a difficult economic backdrop.

St George’s House

Yet there is, I believe, still more we can do.

Just today (30 October 2013), St George’s House published their independent report on delivering social justice, having brought together leaders from across the social justice world, away from the media spotlight, to have a frank and realistic discussion…

… the aim being to break the trait all too often seen in government, of papering over recurring problems.

Some of the more innovative challenges highlighted in their report we need to explore further – for example, looking at the role head teachers might play in delivering social justice even beyond the school gate.

Others we already know about – such as the need for better links between local and central government.

The report’s welcome recommendations remind us that we cannot lose momentum now.

Local authorities have a crucial role – using their commissioning power to take advantage of the best local service providers.

But central government too must play its part, when it comes to information sharing, for example, or opening up procurement to smaller organisations.

Social justice toolkit

Our purpose is to put in place the mechanisms that aid and enable your vital work.

So when you tell us that data remains a problem – too often patchy, inaccessible or unavailable…

… well, we must push harder than ever to put the right structures in place, and remove the obstacles that hinder your work.

To this end, following joint development with the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, we are pleased to announce the launch of the social justice toolkit…

… aimed precisely at helping anyone – whether a civil servant, a provider, or the man on the street – to understand and get involved in tackling the social problems in their area.

For local areas in particular, the toolkit will enable a better identification of their immediate priorities…

… sharing best practice and learning from communities with a similar demography.

What’s more, by measuring local progress against our key social justice indicators, the toolkit will help to align local work with national objectives, allowing central and local government to work in tandem.


Change measured against these indicators will not happen overnight.

But already, we can be sure that we are delivering real, tangible improvements in the daily life and future prospects of the most vulnerable in our society.

Take the young family, who might once have struggled to cope with a new baby, and risked falling apart…

… but are now one of 48,000 parents having received couple counselling, able to get specialist help from one of 1,000 additional health visitors in post since 2011.

With extended free early education from age 2 for the most disadvantaged children… and a Pupil Premium worth £900 per child this year…

… the life chances for that newborn now look very different – set on an upward trajectory, rather than a downward spiral.

So too when it comes to this country’s most troubled families, once at the hands of a whole host of piecemeal and inefficient services…

… now being offered intensive tailored support through a designated support worker.

Already, the lives of over 14,000 troubled families have been changed for the better – meaning children back in school where they were previously playing truant or committing crime; adults off benefits and into work.

These are some of the hardest families to work with, the ones known to all local services – police, children’s services, housing associations and so on – but who have never before received this intensive, tailored support that can bring lasting change.

So too for those sadly lacking a functional family structure – young people leaving care, who have, for too long, seen persistently poor social outcomes.

This week, we have launched our ‘Care Leavers’ Strategy, brokered through the Social Justice Cabinet Committee…

… which will ensure, for the first time, that government’s pooled resources – from education and employment, to health, housing and justice – are tailored to the challenges facing these young people.

These may be simple strategic steps, but they stand to make a significant impact on a group too often left to struggle alone.


Through interventions such as this, and many more, we are making a real difference…

… giving to individuals who might once have been left on the sidelines, the tools to turn their own lives around.

Just a few examples of what that means in practice.

For the ex-offender – it is early processing of benefits claims so they have money in their pocket and support through the Work Programme from the moment they leave the prison gates.

For the seriously indebted – it means being able to escape the spiral of problem debt through money advice, budgeting support and credit unions, whilst government finally clamps down on the predatory practices of payday lenders.

For the drug or alcohol addict – it is help to get clean and back on track, through pioneering new approaches across the prison, employment and rehabilitation services, that focus on freedom from addiction and lasting life change.

This is social justice in action – not just government putting an extra pound in someone’s pocket to try and lift them over an arbitrary poverty line…

… but meaningful support to tackle the problem at its source…

… and from there, enabling people to sustain that improvement in their lives, moving from dependence to independence.

Social investment

This is a historic break from a system that for too long, fostered dependency rather than transforming lives…

… and one which will not happen using the same old methods.

As I said at the beginning, the Social Justice Strategy was always about challenging the status quo.

Encouragingly, I believe one final measure of our progress over the past 18 months has been emergence of radical and creative ways of achieving social change.

We now have over 30 schemes and pilots up and running, where providers are paid at least in part for the outcomes they achieve in improving in people’s lives.

Because the focus is on results, instead of inputs, providers are freed from rigid processes and given scope to innovate.

Spurred on by a growing social investment market, new models are coming to the fore, such as social enterprises and social impact bonds…

… in turn bringing in new investors – private sector companies, high-net individuals, and venture capitalists… groups who might never before have seen themselves as part of the solution for change.

The introduction of a social investment tax relief will open up that market even further.

Just as Gift Aid has encouraged charitable donations, so my hope is that the tax relief will incentivise anyone with savings to put their money into social investment.

Alongside new infrastructure – a Social Stock Exchange and the Early Intervention Foundation, which is already starting to assess and advise on programmes’ social return on investment…

… this is opening up exciting new prospects.


Now is the time to seize those emerging opportunities.

Some are doing so already: scouting out local talents in the voluntary sector and encouraging social entrepreneurship…

… opening up the commissioning of services to allow newcomers to the market…

… or harnessing new funding models, where the discipline and rigour of the business world is built in.

But in straightened times, and faced with tight budgets, all of us need to find new ways of tackling social problems…

… building momentum in the years to come.

Delivering social justice offers a way forward.

By intervening early and efficiently, we prevent costs from building up further down the line.

By tackling problems at their source, we save money otherwise spent on ineffective remedial policies.

And by focussing on meaningful outcomes, we ensure that each pound we spend has a demonstrable purpose.

Restoring our finances, as we are compelled to do…

… but most of all, restoring hope and aspiration to those on the furthest reaches of society…

… at the same time, restoring lives.