Wislon - First Term As Prime Minister - Domestic Affairs - Urban Renewal

Urban Renewal

A number of subsidies were allocated to local authorities faced with acute areas of severe poverty (or other social problems). The 1969 Housing Act provided local authorities with the duty of working out what to do about 'unsatisfactory areas'. Local authorities could declare 'general improvement areas' in which they would be able to buy up land and houses, and spend environmental improvement grants. On the same basis, taking geographical areas of need, a package was developed by the government which resembled a miniature poverty programme. In July 1967, the government decided to pour money into what the Plowden Committee defined as Educational Priority Areas, poverty-stricken areas where children were environmentally deprived. A number of poor inner-city areas were subsequently granted EPA status (despite concerns that Local Education Authorities would be unable to finance Educational Priority Areas). From 1968 to 1970, 150 new schools were built under the educational priority programme.

Section 11 of the 1966 Local Government Act enabled local authorities to claim grants to recruit additional staff to meet special needs of Commonwealth immigrants. According to Brian Lapping, this was the first step ever taken towards directing help to areas with special needs, "the reversal of the former position under which ministers had passed the burden of social help measures in housing, education and health to local authorities without passing them any money."

In 1967, Wilson's government decided to spend £16 million, mainly in "Educational Priority Areas", over the next two years. Over a two-year period, £16 million was allocated by the government for construction of schools in EPAs, while teachers in 572 primary schools "of exceptional difficulty" were selected for additional increments. After negotiations with teachers' unions, £400,000 of this money was set aide to pay teachers an additional £75 per annum for working in "schools of exceptional difficulty", of which 570 schools were designated. The government also sponsored an action research project, an experiment in five of the EPAs to try to devise the most effective ways of involving communities, according to Brian Lapping,

"in the work of their schools, compensating the children for the deprivation of their background, seeing whether, in one area pre-school play groups, in another intensive language tuition, in another emphasis on home-school relations, would be most effective."

The first Wilson government made assistance to deprived urban communities a specific policy of national government in 1969 with the passage of the Local Government Grants (Social Need) Act, which empowered the Home Secretary to dispense grants to assist local authorities in providing extra help to areas "of special social need." The Urban Aid Programme was subsequently launched to provide community and family advice centres, centres for the elderly, money for schools and other services, thereby alleviating urban deprivation. In introducing the Urban Aid Programme, the then Home Secretary James Callaghan stated that the goal of the legislation was to

"provide for the care of our citizens who live in the poorest overcrowded parts of our cities and towns. It is intended to arrest ... and reverse the downward spiral which afflicts so many of these areas. There is a deadly quagmire of need and poverty."

Under the Urban Aid Programme, funds were provided for centres for unattached youngsters, family advice centres, community centres, centres for the elderly, and in one case for an experimental scheme for rehabilitating methylated spirit drinkers. Central government paid 75% of the costs of these schemes, which were nominated by local authorities in areas of 'acute social need'. As a result of this legislation, many ideas were put into practice such as language classes for immigrants, daycentres for the elderly or disabled, day nurseries, adventure playgrounds, and holidays for deprived or handicapped children. The schemes therefore proved successful in making extra social provision while encouraging community development.

Twelve Community Development Projects (CDPs) were set up in areas with high levels of deprivation to encourage self-help and participation by local residents in order to improve their communication and access to local government, together with improving the provision of local services. In the years that followed, these action-research projects increasingly challenged existing ideas about the causes of inner-city deprivation, arguing that the roots of poverty in such areas could be traced to changes in the political economy of inner-city areas, such as the withdrawal of private capital (as characterised by the decline of manufacturing industries).

The Community Development Projects involved co-operation between specially created local teams of social workers, who were supported by part-timers (such as policemen and youth employment officers). The task given to these groups (who were watched over by their own action research teams) was to ascertain how much real demand t here was for support from the social services in their areas of choice, based on the theory that workers in social services usually failed to communicate what they had to offer or to make themselves available, thereby resulting in many deprived people failing to acquire the services that they so desperately needed.

As noted by Brian Lapping, the Community Development Projects were also designed to test the view that within poor communities local residents could articulate local grievances, get conditions in their areas improved, and provide some kind of political leadership, in a way that the existing political structure had failed to do, "largely because these areas of intense poverty were rarely big enough to be electorally important." In assessing the first Wilson government's efforts to uplift the poorest members of British society via the establishment of the Community Development Projects and the designation of the Educational Priority Areas, Brian Lapping noted that

"The determination expressed in the diverse policies to give this unfortunate group the help it needed was among the most humane and important initiatives of the 1964-70 government."

Read more about this topic:  Wislon, First Term As Prime Minister, Domestic Affairs

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