The Wilberforce Address is the annual keynote address of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and attracts high profile speakers from Westminster. Previous speakers include William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb and David Cameron. Baroness Philippa Stroud gave the 2016 address on ‘The future of social justice’ in Westminster in December 2016.
Speaking about her life, career and passion to tackle poverty and social breakdown, Baroness Stroud traced the beginnings back to post-university in France, when she wrestled with how to respond to street sleepers.
She said, ‘There’s a quote from Wilberforce which says, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know”. The question I was asking is, “What on earth am I supposed to do about it?” That was the question that I wrestled through.’
Her soul-searching led her to Hong Kong and to working with Jackie Pullinger among the city’s ex-Triad heroin addicts in the Walled City, a slum area, where she learnt personal change was possible. ‘Personal transformation only really happens where there is time, relationship, personal responsibility, care, protection and love. That is what is required to see life change’.
She saw this transformation in Elfrida, a 70-year-old ex-prostitute in the Walled City who had been paid in heroin. She had come off all her heroin and was helping other people go through drug withdrawal. Baroness Stroud said, ‘She was one of the rebuilders of the ancient ruins and the places long devastated’.
This experience helped her to see that, for national policy-making to be effective, it had to be ‘one-on-one on one-on-one’. She said, ‘No national policy is effective if it doesn’t deliver life change one life at a time’.
On her return to the UK, over the next 15 years she founded a night shelter and rehab house in Bedford and the Bridge project in Birmingham, which provided supported housing for the homeless.
In her bid to find out how to take to a national level what she had learned locally she went on to co-found the Centre for Social Justice with Iain Duncan Smith, which ‘helped people see that there were some root causes to poverty’.
She joined the Conservative Party when its strapline was the ‘party for the vulnerable’. ‘I served as a government adviser, to ensure that welfare reform was conducted in the most socially just way. My passion is that innovative thinking on social justice penetrates the political discourse and helps tackle the government’s most intractable social problems’.
Following the 2010 election, Philippa Stroud was appointed as a special adviser to the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, becoming responsible for the development of the social justice agenda and working, among other things, on the government’s key welfare reform programme including the introduction of universal credit.
She was created a life peer in October 2015. She said: ‘I count it such a privilege to have been appointed to the House of Lords where I can speak out passionately about these issues.’
In November 2016, she took up the role of CEO at the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, aimed at helping nations, societies and individuals move from poverty to prosperity.
Baroness Stroud ended with a tip from Wilberforce for tackling each day: ‘Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure. Then fix your eyes on the glorious prize which is before you. And when your strength begins to fail and your spirits are well right exhausted let the animating view rekindle your resolution and call forth in renewed vigour the fainting energies of your soul.’
Editor’s note: We aim to report, from time to time, on similar events from other major UK political parties.