By any definition 2010 has been an extraordinary year. The arrival of an energetic new government in Westminster with an expressed wish to "be judged by what we do about the poorest" has to be welcomed by any organisation with a focus on what happens to people and places in poverty.
Throughout the year we have published evidence that highlights the misery, hardship and pain faced by many people because of unemployment, homelessness and old age. Last week our final piece of research for this year was published by the IFS which clearly illustrated exactly how damaging the combination of cuts to benefits and services will be. As we warned a few months ago, changes need to be made with a scalpel not a chainsaw, otherwise the outcome of this major transformation will be increased poverty, more people in housing need, and a failure to address the most pressing social problems of our time.
For a long time we have recognised that our current welfare system does not sufficiently help people overcome poverty. Far too many people become trapped in a life on benefits and face major obstacles to going back to work. As our research has repeatedly demonstrated, poorly paid, insecure work does not provide long-lasting routes out of poverty. A sufficient income is only one element of any anti-poverty strategy: training, affordable and flexible childcare, as well as a more sensitive benefits system, are all required to make a real difference.
We now find ourselves in a new perfect storm. The Government is committed to reducing public expenditure considerably over a short period of time. That in itself is a challenge. It is also committed to decentralising significantly, and ensuring that power is devolved to local and neighbourhood level. While this is entirely consistent with much of our research, it is also demanding.
And at the same time, there is a debate about the nature of the social contract: the Government is clearly focused on ensuring that the balance of responsibility between the individual, community and state is profoundly changed. This storm is taking place during a period when the global challenges of our overheating planet and ageing population are becoming more and more pressing.
There is no argument with the need to reconsider how the relationships between the individual, the state and government work. Our social contract is always, and will always, be changing. But the damage to people who are already struggling is enormous, and the costs of this will be borne by future generations. We will all pay the long-term price for social change that is not managed in a way that protects the very poorest.
I hope that 2011 will see some of these challenges addressed.