Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Family breakdown and government policy

Frankly there has not been enough discussion of Ian Duncan Smith's policy paper on Social Justice, entitled Breakdown Britain. You can find the website of the Center for Social Justice here, and the Breakdown Britain report here.

There is a huge amount government can do, for example as well as having a minister for women, or children why not have a minister for families?

Apparently according to this article in yesterdays Telegraph Gordon Brown is quoted thus:

"Gordon Brown said in his 1998 Budget that 'support should be based on family need – not family structure."

Which appears in part responsible for 200,000 families lying about their status to get more benefits. It seems to make sense to live apart, or at least to pretend to. What is more of a concern to me is how many of the 1.9 million families that do genuinely live apart do so in part because of crazy benefit or government related pressure?

There is no doubt, or at least there should not be that a stable family is the best place in which to bring up a child. We need to make it clear that stable families are supported.

People also equate living together with being married. After all, what bigger commitment is there than having children together?

Well, it has to be said that having children together is a big commitment, but it is a different commitment to being together in sickness and in health for richer or for poorer.

We do need to preach values.


Timothy said...

My experience of trying to live a "family" life, away from the support of extended family or friends - due to following my job around the country - has led me to the conclusion that supporting the "family", as in just the "nuclear" family of Mum, Dad and the kids, is woefully inadequate, and likely to do more harm than good.

Personally, I believe that society needs to be more ambitious and has to work hard to break down the barriers that exist between families. Study of bonobo chimpanzee society suggests that a bit of inter-familial sexual activity might help to build community bonds to create a wider and more dynamic support network so that people would not be so isolated within their "nuclear silo" family units.

Now, that would be radical thinking from the Conservatives!

Less contentiously, perhaps, would be the need to design the economy around life, rather than life around the economy.

A case study: Husband and Wife both have expensive university educations. Husband is a mathematical modeller and has a suitably well paid job in the South West. Wife is a Biologist of some description and works in a local University.

Her Majesty's Government decides on the policy of concentrating science Research funding into a smaller number of "internationally competitive" departments. Wife's department is consequently closed. After a long and arduous process wife is offered and takes up a temporary position at a University in Scotland.

Husband begins the arduous process of looking for a job in Scotland that will use the skills that society spent so much time and effort teaching him. Meanwhile the family live apart.

Family begin to wonder whether it is worth Husband leaving secure job, given that Wife's academic position is only temporary.

Family left in a situation where either Husband or Wife has to waste their education in order to keep family together, with little stability or future employment guarantees. Also have to struggle to do the best by their young daughter in terms of achieving a stable environment for education...

Now it seems to me that the quest for ever greater economic efficiency is always going to be contradictory to the needs of families.

This leaves Conservatives with some difficult choices. Which is more important? The family, or the economy?

This has massive consequences for how Conservatives treat all sorts of issues. Take, for example, Unions - who often fight to prevent family-unfriendly, but economically "efficient", working practices. Whose side would the modern-day Tories be on?

All I seem to be hearing from IDS and Tories in general are yet more moral platitudes about "supporting families" and a few half-baked ideas for tax breaks to benefit merchant banker men with their stay-at-home wives. Great.

Benedict White said...

Timothy, The issue you have is in part economic, but it is also more to do with the individual putting their aspirations ahead of the familys need.

There sometimes is the need to sacrifice career for family.

Nick said...

Yes, you are right. Much more discussion about 'Breakdown Britain' is needed.

Benedict White said...

Nick, thanks for the comment.

What is your take on why we have too much family breakdown?