The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) was established as an independent think-tank by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004. As Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith spent time in many of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities, with people whose lives were blighted by social breakdown and the poverty it created. As he later wrote, he encountered 'levels of social breakdown which appalled me. In the fourth largest economy in the world, too many people lived in dysfunctional homes, trapped on benefits. Too many children were leaving school with no qualifications or skills to enable them to work and prosper. Too many communities were blighted by alcohol and drug addiction, debt and criminality, many of them with stunningly low levels of life expectancy.’
Many people he met had given up on politicians because they felt politicians had given up on them. The political process had become irrelevant in their lives; Westminster was failing to play its part in getting to grips with Britain’s deepest social problems. The CSJ was founded as the fulfilment of promises made to people like Janice Dobbie, whose son had recently died from a drug overdose just after he was released from prison.
Our consistent hope has been that each person, family and community is given every possible opportunity to reach their full potential. To achieve this the CSJ has deliberately fused policy-making expertise with poverty-fighting experience. From its earliest days, the unique voice of the voluntary sector – whose organisations are best placed to prevent social breakdown and turn people’s lives around – has been prominent. Alongside CSJ leaders and many of our staff who have a background in the voluntary sector, the CSJ has built a unique and deeply practical Poverty-fighter’s Alliance. This network of more than 320 innovative charities acts as our bridge between Parliament and our most deprived communities. It is through this network that the CSJ understands the scale and damage of social breakdown in the UK. It is also the basis on which we are enabled to promote solutions that are proven to work in neighbourhoods and lives across the country.
By combining hands-on experience, public involvement, academic rigour and effective political engagement, the CSJ has been able to work from a foundation that has sparked radical public policy change. Since 2004 we have set out over 800 ideas – published across more than 20 research themes – that would make a transformative difference in people’s lives. Many of these recommendations have influenced the political process significantly, revolutionising a tired debate about poverty and social justice. These include: radical welfare reform through Universal Credit; early years intervention programmes; political commitments to prevent family breakdown; pioneering education reforms; efforts to improve the rehabilitation of offenders and drug addicts; action on street gangs; and support for people with unmanageable debts.