Friday, March 02, 2007

Perfect Libdemery!

Much has been said about family policy in recent weeks, what with us Conservatives coming out clearly in favour of two parent families, preferably married, whilst Labour seem (or at least Alan Johnson) to not care about family structure.

It is a fair debate.

People accuse the Liberal Democrats of either sitting on the fence, or telling different things to different people.

Well, here is an example of perfect Libdemery. David Laws is quoted in this article on the Liberal Democrat website. Here it is, with my comments.
Commenting on Alan Johnson’s speech on government policy towards families, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws MP said:

"Lone parenthood and teenage pregnancy are frequently accompanied by poor skills and poor aspirations."
Well, possibly. Teenage pregnancy frequently so, but lone parenthood can occur at any time in a child's life, and whilst it does not assist and you would not wish it upon a child, it does not mean that a widow or widower suddenly drops their aspirations for their children or indeed that the children lower theirs either. A generalisation to far I am afraid.

"The recent Unicef report makes clear that the breakdown of family life in the UK has increased child poverty and reduced the stability that all children need in early years.

Well, yes that is stating the obvious.
"It makes sense to remove the barriers to people marrying and living together, including those in the benefit system."
Ah, I see. You agree that the system penalises stable families, and indeed married families and would like to put that right. Good.
Commenting further, Liberal Democrat Children, Young People and Family Spokesperson, Annette Brooke MP said:

"The Tory approach of special tax relief for marriage is nonsense.

"Financial bribes will not guarantee that children grow up in a stable loving family relationship.
I see, you disagree with David Laws then? Or the Conservatives? Or are you trying to milk this both ways for all it's worth?

The fact is either you believe the system as is penalises stable relationships, and want to fix that (The Conservative position) or you believe that financial bribes won't help (The current Labour position, I suspect subject to review). You can't sit on the fence on this one!

So there you have it. On both sides of the fence at the same side!

Hat tip to tpfkar on


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the hat tip Benedict. However I don't think that the comments are as fence-sitting as they appear in your article.

The Conservatives have clearly identified supporting family as a key priority, and are working towards solid policies on this. However all they have floated so far is this married couples tax break. It's the ultimate new Labour mistake to think that all social problems can be cured economically; their protestations that income has increased and child poverty decreased fell flat when presented with the damning findings of the UNICEF report on childhood.

While I applaud the Tories making the issue a priority, I am unconvinced that this tax break is the solution; I imagine that there are very few couples on the verge of breaking up for whom a bit more cash is the solution, and it may divert money towards family where there is really no need.

I think this is what the Lib Dems are getting at here; we need family stability, for both economic and social reasons, but marriage tax breaks are not the most effective way of promoting marriage. Put together in that way, surely David Laws and Annette Brooke's comments make sense?

David Laws specifically mentions the benefits system - I believe that some people will be only 5p in the pound better off working than on benefits under the current tax system - and this is where I would start in reforming the tax system to encourage families, giving them real incentives to get into work, even if on lower incomes, to support themselves.

So what should be done? Marriage isn't just about the kids - it's about committing together and planning for the future, and growing together through it. So encouraging marriage prep/relationship enrichment courses, possibly run through local organisations such as churches. Encouraging families to spend more time together, evening meals and all, and simply improving transport and encouraging families to live near workplaces so they aren't spending hours commuting. Also strengthening regulations against being forced to work overtime.

I could go on, but my lunch hour is coming to an end - I'll pop back in later to have a look at the comments.

Benedict White said...

Actually Tpfkar, there are policy documents, for example Ian Duncan Smith's one here:

which contain all sorts of ideas on policy to help families to stay together.

That said quite a few family breakdowns do happen because of financial pressure. What is very bad though is that as David Laws says, the system almost actively discriminates against married couples and stable ones.

Mark Senior said...

Dominic , Watching Maude the other day , he specifically said that the married couples tax break will apply whether there are children or not . It would therefore help some married couples who need help but also go to others who do not and is therefore basically a bribe to wealthy DINK couples .
More important if extra money is going to these people where is it coming from ( it has to come from somewhere ) and some at least of it will come from poor unmarried couples with children( yes ok they can get married if for example an ex partner of 1 of them agrees to a divorce and they can afford the divorce costs ) and some of it will come from even poorer single parents who may be single through no fault of their own .

Benedict White said...

Mark, My name is Benedict.

Any way, as I was saying Bob, who cares what Francis Maude said on question time. It has been made clear that it is a policy we would like to introduce, but the details have as yet not been worked out. Also it is only part of a pro marriage stratergy.

As to where the money comes from, it could well be comming from corporation tax! As it is the government spends all sorts of money on all sorts of things some less worthy than others. By your argument that is "taking it way" from other deserving causes.

Mark Senior said...

My apologies Benedict , mental block there . So Maude was wrong fair enough , he presumably is of no standing in the party . So this is another " policy announcement " which has been ill thought out , not costed and no definite idea of where the money is coming from and presumably it does not matter as long as you can offer bribes to your supporter base .

Benedict White said...

mark, what I am saying is that the policy is not yet fully formed. It is as simple as that. Take it how you will.