Family Manifesto - September 13th 2017
It is no secret that I am a thrice-married divorcee. That is a fact of which I am neither proud nor apologetic. My own circumstances are the result of `events`, some of which have been outside of my own control. There are those who will say that in the light of my own past I have no right to opine about `family life`. Others may take the more charitable view that having been through the rough, tumble and pain of separation and rebuilding I at least have some personal experience of `real life` from which to comment.
I mention this because I am one of the signatories to “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, a document supported by some fifty Conservative Members of Parliament and Peers. Having recovered my own position, having been fortunate enough to have enjoyed getting on for forty years of largely happy married life- no relationship is without occasional turbulence - and now having three children and five grandchildren of my own I recognise that if the Government is to achieve its aim to increase social mobility, deliver social justice and “Make Britain a Country that works for everyone and not just a privileged few” then we are going to have to strengthen once again the family ties that have become so loosened over the years since the Second World War.
The `Family Manifesto` calls, first, for the appointment of a Cabinet-level Minister to ensure that family-friendly policies are prioritised and co-ordinated across Government Departments. This is a responsibility that has been left to chance for far too long and in the same way that the Education Minister also holds the Equalities brief the time has come when another Cabinet Minister, possibly Work and Pensions, should bear identified responsibility for families.
The second priority is to require every Local Authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver not just Early Years health and education “Sure Start”-style services but relationship support for couples in distress or at risk of separation. There is, I believe, a postcode lottery of approach at present that determines that while some District, City and particularly County, Councils offer a joined-up approach to family life others are driven by a `political correctness` that can militate against the traditional family unit.
Other aspects of the document highlight the importance of promoting active fatherhood in a child`s life and to ensure, by bringing into force Schedule 6 of the 2010 Welfare Reform Act, that a child`s father is named on the birth certificate. In tandem with this the Government must remove the financial disincentives for those on low incomes, which means very many young couples, from forming lasting relationships. I have no problem with means-testing specific benefits, such as child allowance, to ensure that lower income couples receive a higher rate of payment than those who might welcome but frankly are not in as great a need of what are, inevitably, finite resources. Those on Universal Credit and entitled to marriage allowance should receive it automatically. At present `couple penalties` for those in receipt of tax credits means that it often can pay more to live apart than to stay together and that has to be a nonsense.
In their forward to the Manifesto Fiona Bruce MP and Lord Farmer, the co-authors of the document say that:
“Family breakdown is not just about divorce and separation. Children also fare badly in families where there are no safe, stable and nurturing relationships whether their parent are still together or not and however much money is coming into a household. Conflict that is constantly spilling over into explosive anger or spreading a dark cloud of coldness and indifference produces a toxic environment to live in. Growing up without a fuather can be very painful and over a million children have no meaningful relationship with their fathers”. Lurking behind some very expensive curtains are relationship breakdowns that are as every bit as severe as those in less well-off households.
It is a sad and uncomfortable fact that the United Kingdom has one of the highest levels of family breakdown in the world and as a result record numbers of children are being taken into sometimes less-than-satisfactory local authority care every year. Twenty years ago John Major`s `Back to Basics` proposals were greeted with scorn and derision and were sneered at by a liberal media elite. That John, like most politicians, had failings and some would say feet of clay, should have been no reason for abandoning an initiative designed to put the UK back on a firm and family-friendly footing. In the intervening years more damage still has been done at terrible social and economic cost. It may not be `fashionable` but I am certain that if we are to get our society back on track then we are going to have to ignore the nay-sayers, weather the storm of protest that will no doubt be levelled at what will be misrepresented as a series of `elitist and middle-class policies` and make a serious effort to put the family back at the heart of our national way-of-life. That cannot be achieved by legislation alone but we can start by creating a social and economic framework in which Grandparents, Parents and Children, the building blocks of life, can live together in happiness and thrive.