In the past two decades governments in Britain have launched a series of initiatives designed to reduce the disparities between areas of affluence and deprivation. These initiatives were funded by central government and were delivered through a series of partnership boards operating at the neighbourhood level in areas with high levels of deprivation. Drawing on similar approaches in the US War on Poverty, the engagement of residents in the planning and delivery of projects was a major priority. This chapter draws on the national evaluations of three of these programmes in England: the Single Regeneration Budget, the New Deal for Communities and the Neighbourhood Management Pathfinders.
The chapter begins by identifying the common characteristics of these programmes, known as area-based initiatives because they targeted areas of concentrated deprivation with a population of about 10,000 people each. It then goes on to discuss the three national programmes and summarises the main findings in relation to how far key indicators changed for the better. The final section sets out the ways in which policy objectives changed in 2010 after the election of a coalition government. This produced a shift to what was called the ‘Big Society’ where the rhetoric favoured a transfer of power away from central government towards the local, neighbourhood, level. This approach favoured self-help and a call to volunteering rather than channelling resources to the areas in greatest need. The chapter closes by reviewing the relatively modest achievements of this centralist, big-state approach to distressed neighbourhoods of 1990–2010.