Mentoring at the heart of David Cameron's 'all-out assault on poverty'


David Cameron has launched an "all-out assault on poverty" with a sweeping package of social reforms including measures to boost mentoring, improve mental health services and flatten "sink estates".

The Prime Minister used a keynote speech to launch a major campaign to encourage high-flying mentors to pass on their experiences to youngsters at risk of dropping out of school.

He also defended controversial education reforms and outlined proposals to encourage saving as part of his plan to "rescue a generation from poverty".

Mr Cameron praised ambitious "Tiger Mothers" who pushed their children to succeed.

It was "the precise opposite of the 'all must have prizes' culture", he said, insisting that "children thrive on high expectation".

Giving details of the boost for mentoring, Mr Cameron said CapGemini UK's chairwoman Christine Hodgson and the Careers and Enterprise Company would lead a new campaign to encourage role models to share their experiences.

In a keynote speech in Islington, north London he said around 25,000 pupils about to begin GCSEs risked under-achieving or dropping out and claimed many of these would benefit from a mentor's guidance.

He said: "Many people can look back at their younger selves and point to someone - perhaps a parent or teacher, a sports coach, or their first boss - and say 'that's the person who found my passion. They're the ones who made the difference'.

"But if you haven't ever had someone in your life who really believes in you - who sees your potential and helps bring it to the fore - the sands of time can drain away, and your talents can remain hidden."

Some £70m will be targeted on the issue by 2020, primarily to the Careers and Enterprise Company which will lead the effort to recruit mentors for young teenagers.

Mr Cameron also used his speech to promise action to tackle the "stigma" of addiction and mental health problems, and to signal plans to tear down "brutal" housing estates which had become hotbeds of crime.

Ahead of the publication of a "life chances strategy" in the spring, the Prime Minister set out his reform agenda.

He said: "This is what I would call a life-cycle approach - one that takes people from their earliest years, through schooling to adolescence and their adult life.

"I believe that if you take the right action in each of these four areas ... we can make a significant impact on poverty and disadvantage in our country."

Describing families as "the best anti-poverty measure ever invented", he set out plans to encourage poorer households to save more to build up their "financial resilience" if they suffered a setback.

He said: "We will bring forward a help-to-save scheme to help those on low incomes to build up a rainy day fund."

Details of the scheme will be announced in George Osborne's next Budget, he added.

The widely-trailed speech also included new commitments to improve access to relationship counselling and a drive to encourage new parents to attend classes in how to cope with a baby.

He said he wanted it to become "normal, even aspirational, to attend parenting classes".

The Prime Minister defended his Government's approach to education - including plans to make children in English schools memorise their times tables - insisting a "knowledge-based curriculum" was "cutting edge" rather than a throwback to the past.

He attacked the National Union of Teachers' general secretary Christine Blower, who had criticised the use of rote learning.

"Dismissing knowledge is, frankly, dismissing the life chances of our children. That is exactly what people like the general secretary of the NUT are doing when they say children don't need to learn their times tables because they can use their phone instead. That is utterly the wrong thing."

Mr Cameron also highlighted an increase in funding for the National Citizen Service (NCS), which will be given an extra £1 billion of funding over the next four years.

By 2021, the NCS will cover 60% of 16-year-olds and become the "largest programme of its kind in Europe".

Schools will be expected to give every child the opportunity to take part in the scheme, he said.

Confirming details of his plans to transform, or completely flatten, troubled housing estates, the Prime Minister said some estates built after the Second World War "entrench poverty" because they isolate the people living in them.

The "brutal high-rise towers" with linked walkways had "designed in crime", becoming a habitat for drug dealers and gangs.

His plans to work with 100 estates across the country would regenerate them, he insisted, with existing tenants given "binding guarantees" to properly protect them.

The proposals would "consign the sink estate to history", he claimed.