Social justice: progress towards transforming lives

A speech marking the publication of the government’s second progress report on ‘Social justice: transforming lives’.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith

Thank you to:

  • Jon Craig for chairing today’s event

  • the other speakers – representing a cross-section of charities, government, and the business world

  • all those working on the social justice agenda, especially in my own department


It is a pleasure to be here today, and to mark our second progress report.

It is nearly 3 years since we launched Social justice: transforming lives, and 10 years since I set up the Centre for Social Justice – the organisation where for me, in a sense, it all started.

Faced with the reality of blighted lives in Britain’s most deprived communities, social justice has long been about tackling the pathways that lead people into poverty in the first place…

… finding solutions to family breakdown, debt, educational failure, addiction and worklessness – too often viewed as intractable problems.

Working together, social justice is underpinned by the belief that no one is beyond help and that no one should be written off.

Commitment to the cause

A decade on, my commitment to this cause is as strong as ever.

And it is testament to the passion of all of you here today – to your dedication and hard work – that throughout this Parliament, we have kept social justice at the very top of the political agenda…

… a long-term plan for social reform, vital to our long-term economic plan.

Even in tough times following the recession… when it would have been all too easy to dismiss the challenge… we have persisted in championing the need for change:

  • steadfast in standing up for Britain’s most disadvantaged individuals and families

  • determined in driving progress, overcoming the obstacles and red tape in our way

  • resolute in our aim of renewing people’s life chances, and making a real difference

Lasting ambition

Above all, I am proud that this government was the first to make social justice a lasting ambition.

Not a political whim or quick win…

… but rather putting in place the structures necessary to deliver real change for years to come.

Be it in government: where we have ended the blinkered approach of the past, bringing together 9 departments with a shared ethos and vision through the Social Justice Cabinet Committee.

On the frontline: freeing up councils from central government control, harnessing local leadership, and empowering the best voluntary providers.

Or for the country’s coffers: unlocking the billion pound potential of social investment, to establish a new financial market.

These are strong foundations on which to build…

… that I believe will stand the test of time.


Much of what we have done has been without great fanfare…

… taking place unseen in Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods… or going unrecognised by those who underestimate the difference these changes can make to people’s lives.

Yet nevertheless, I believe a revolution is underway.

In bringing together the totality of our progress… delivering on over 100 social justice commitments… today’s report reveals the magnitude of what we have achieved:

  • 250,000 more children living with both their birth parents

  • 160,000 people having accessed preventative relationship support

  • 70,000 troubled families whose lives have turned around

  • 2,100 former gang members back on the straight and narrow

  • 1.75 million more people in work

Each and every one of these statistics is a rise in hope.

Each and every one, a life transformed.

Cultural change

Yet even such emphatic figures don’t tell the whole story of what social justice is about.

For they don’t capture the cultural change that it involves.

From top-down, to bottom-up. Reactive to preventative. And above all, from maintenance to meaningful change…

… challenging accepted wisdom and the old tactics in our nation’s fight against poverty.

Too often in the past, tackling social breakdown was too often a question of government pouring money into social programmes…alongside unprecedented spending on income transfers, in pursuit of a poverty target ever harder to reach.

Despite the best of intentions, such an approach was short-sighted.

All that spending failed to meet its objective, I believe, because it put process ahead of people… failing to ask what impact it was having on changing lives.

Or to put it another way, what more could have been achieved had that money been invested in a more focused way to create lasting improvements to people’s chances.

Meaningful outcomes

At its heart, social justice is about turning this around: a complete shift in culture, whereby we focus solely on delivering meaningful outcomes: improving a child’s achievement at school… a young person’s job prospects… a family’s self-sufficiency and security.

No longer government throwing more and more of taxpayers’ money on ineffective remedial policies, in the hope of doing something…

… but instead a new approach, investing in proven programmes to transform lives.

First, intervening early. Then, offering second chances out where lives do go off track.

And throughout, investing effectively… so that every pound we spend goes on life change for those most in need.

This, then, is the radical change for which we have fought so hard in recent years.

It has not been easy, for cultural change is never quick.

Yet I believe we are now seeing real progress on this front too.

Early intervention

It starts with prevention: getting to the source of social problems early, rather than waiting to pick up the pieces.

And now, across government, the signs of a positive shift are clear to see:

From health, where family nurse partnerships are now helping vulnerable mothers in over 100 councils, on track for 16,000 places by next year…

… to families, where a record number of parents – more than a million – are now using children’s centres…

… through to education, where 260,000 disadvantaged 2-year-olds are now benefitting from free early education.

These are just some examples within the first years of a child’s life.

To set that in context, our progress report runs to 50 pages.

So I am not going into detail on all that we are doing, but the point is this: from the foundation years, during children’s schools and into adult life…

… throughout, when it comes to how we deliver social justice, the answer lies in steering the focus and the spending towards improving life chances…

… alleviating the social problems which so are often more difficult to tackle once they become entrenched.

Second chances

Early intervention on the one hand, then.

Yet all of us here recognise, the reality is that sadly people’s lives do go off course.

So we must also prioritise second chances – giving people the opportunity to turn their own lives around, with the prospect of a better and a more secure future.

To this end, social justice is about offering meaningful routes out of disadvantage…

… and dispelling the appalling idea that it is easier to manage the problem than to help transform people’s lives.

For you don’t solve addiction by parking people on methadone.

You don’t stop problem debt by abandoning people to payday lenders.

You don’t rehabilitate offenders by simply locking them away.

And you don’t cure welfare dependency by parking people on benefits.

That is why, from the start, this government has been unwavering in its commitment to social reform:

reforming our welfare system… education system… justice system… health system and more…

… so that they no longer trap people, but set them on a path from dependency to independence.

Jobs figures

I believe it is in the jobs figures that we see how far progress has been made.

For where people are able, it has long been recognised that work is the best route out of poverty.

It is social justice that ensures those at the very bottom of the ladder are helped to get a foot on the first rung…

… part of our long-term economic plan to deliver a better, more secure future for all.

The record statistics we have seen recently are remarkable:

More people in work than ever before, up 1.75 million since 2010.

More women, and more lone parents in work than ever before.

And more private sector workers than ever before – testament to the crucial role the business has to play.

Less well-known, but perhaps even more important, we have seen economic inactivity close to historic lows and 850,000 fewer people on the main out-of-work benefits.

And in recent months, the largest ever annual fall both in youth unemployment and workless households.

Thus, unlike in the past, when economic recovery meant all too little for those on the margins, now the evidence of a linked social and economic recovery is clear to see…

… in an improving jobs market where no one is being left behind.

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.

For as I said at the beginning, social justice is radical, innovative – even revolutionary.

It is not something that government can deliver on its own.

Thus it requires partnerships across government and across sectors – as a collective duty and responsibility.

Nor is social justice something that government can finance on its own.

This last point is vital, and brings me to one final measure of our progress so far: the social investment market…

… where the UK has become a world leader, with 17 social impact bonds up and running.

I know you have heard a lot this morning about what social investment is, and the benefits it can bring – for business, charities, and communities alike.

And already, we have done a lot to put the infrastructure in place – through the institutions and programmes that you may have already heard about today: Big Society Capital, the social investment tax relief, the Early Intervention Foundation, and more.

Through the 10 social impact bonds financed by my department’s £30 million Innovation Fund, we have proven the concept and seen a positive return on our investment…

… with improved prospects for over 13,000 young people, now doing better at school or moving into work.

Yet there is still much more to do if we are to unleash the full potential of the social investment market – making it the norm for corporate social responsibility in the private sector, for trust funds and investment banks…

… but also for government when it comes to how we fund and deliver social change – be it in the area of early intervention, remedial education, rehabilitation and recovery, or many more.


This is, I believe, the single most exciting development in how we deliver social programmes.

Not just in terms of bringing additional money to bear on social problems, above and beyond that provided by philanthropy or government alone.

But what’s more, through what I call the ‘fidelity guarantee’ – an assurance that what you pay for is delivered, nothing more, nothing less.

Social investment brings the discipline of the private sector to bear in policing social programmes from beginning to end.

The result is that we pay out only for the results that are achieved…

… funding positive life change out of the reduced costs of social breakdown.

Over time, it is my hope that this will turn tide in the whole culture of government spending – whereby we commission outcomes and pay for what works…

… investing in proven programmes that change lives.

Every pound for life change: this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Cohesive society

If we can get this right, I believe the effect it could have on society is dramatic.

The disparity between the top and bottom of society is in many cases larger than it has ever been.

We have a group of skilled professionals and wealth creators at the top of society who have little or no connection to those at the bottom.

Yet in so many cases what divides the 2 is little more than a different start in life.

I believe social investment gives us an opportunity to lock not just wealth back into our most disadvantaged areas – but something else as well.

Just imagine a social enterprise working in a particular deprived neighbourhood.

Investors buy into it and as with any investment, will want to see it flourish.

Because they are risking their money – money that could otherwise be reaping a return elsewhere – those investors will want to see that social programme succeed, bringing a whole new rigour to how it is delivered: the discipline and fidelity I mentioned earlier.

But what’s more, the same investors will want to take an interest in that community where they would otherwise be totally detached… brought back into contact with our most disadvantaged individuals and families, for mutual benefit.

In doing so, these wealth creators could have a powerful influence on the communities themselves…

… a human interface between 2 polarised worlds…

… bringing success to the doorstep of failure – the city and the inner city closer together.

Social justice awards

Now is the time for us to seize the moment, and make this change a reality.

It is no small task.

But with the private, public and social sectors all committed to the cause… investing for the long-term together we can make it happen.

That much is shown by the finalists of today’s social justice awards.

Your extraordinary work is restoring hope and aspiration to people once left on the margins…

… and I would like to congratulate all of you – and especially the winners – on what you have achieved.

Now, it is about inspiring others to take up the cause, and a renewed commitment to continue that progress.


For as I said at the very beginning, social justice is not a quick win.

Rather, the key is sustainment – making a lasting difference.

Families tell me that it’s not about getting together or having a child – it’s about staying together and staying with your child.

Children tell me that it’s not about getting to school – it’s about staying in school, and attaining the education that so many take for granted.

Addicts and alcoholics I speak with tell me it’s not about getting sober or clean – it’s about staying sober, staying clean.

And the same principle applies to work – it’s not just about getting a job, it’s about keeping that job, staying employed.

Our aim was not just about social justice in this Parliament – it is about social justice for years to come.

Let us work together to make a lasting difference…

… now, and for generations to come.

Published 18 November 2014