Families – the buzz word for 2010?

February 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

by Claire McEneaney

Family policy is certainly shaping up to be a key political battleground as all parties clash over how to spend the scarce resources they have available to them. The Conservatives are leading with their tax breaks for married couples. Despite fierce criticism from the opposition parties, Cameron seems to be holding strong on his notion of recognising marriage within the tax system. Ed Balls has been quoted saying that he believes that marriage is the best way to bring up children. However, he has criticised the Tory proposal for being not only expensive but unfair, claiming it would only help couples with one wage earner and discriminate against women who leave their husbands e.g. due to domestic violence. He also claims that it would stigmatise children whose parents were not married. He believes in supporting “all relationships, strong relationships, because that’s the best way to help children”. The Lib Dems have also joined the debate with their proposal to allow parents to share parental leave to encourage fathers to get more involved in children’s early development.

This battlefield is one littered with landmines. Clearly, no party wants to set out to stigmatise any particular group but yet, by the very nature of their proposals, this is inevitable. The majority of parents do a fantastic job, whether they are married or not. Whilst I understand Cameron’s wish to support marriage, so many families don’t confirm to the traditional picture of married with two children anymore. I can’t help but feel the emphasis should be on supporting families i.e. the family unit, not the institution of marriage. I’m certainly not saying I don’t support marriage but should it be financially rewarded? I really don’t think that’s the right approach. Many children have much more happy childhoods as a result of their parents leaving an unhappy marriage and going on to be better parents as separate individuals. Recognising marriage in the tax system may have the adverse effect of parents staying in unhappy, possibly abusive, marriages just for financial gain.

This is why the Innovation Unit is looking at building resilience within families, encouraging and supporting families to be better equipped to deal with everything life throws at them. We’re working with providers of early years services to come up with some radical innovation to support families with very young children to become more resilient. You can read more on this in Matthew’s post here. There is such passion and enthusiasm in this sector and so many people that we’ve spoken to think that the time is ripe for innovation. Scarce resources mean a radical rethink on how families are supported and young children provided for.

This is a debate that isn’t going to be solved overnight – its such an emotive topic. I suspect this will continue to be a real buzz word in the run-up to the forthcoming general election. Will2010 be the year of the family?


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Innovation Policy, Local Authorities, Local Innovation, Radical Efficiency, Schools & Multi-School Trusts, Third Sector Innovation.

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