It’s a phase that has every chance of making it into the final version. The Conservatives know that on many indicators – relationship breakdown, risky behaviour by teenagers, the emotional well-being of children – Britain does not score well.
But it’s not altogether clear that they understand how to improve Britain’s family-friendliness. Most of the trends associated with Britain’s poor family record have been shaped by rampant individualism and consumerism, our tendency to act selfishly and fetishise making money over making time for one another.
Labour’s response in government has been to launch a thousand policy initiatives, to make it a bit easier for families to live within this culture, rather than challenging the culture itself. But this is really a sticking plaster approach – it doesn’t address the bigger problem.
Could politicians do more to make us influence our unfriendly family culture? Here are three things politicians could do during the election to make a start:
- Politicians need to talk about why family life matters. It’s important not just because it produces better children but because relationships sustain us all.
- Policies need to address the real issues. The problem with the debate about whether or not you support marriage through the tax system is that it takes an important issue – relationship breakdown – and reduces it to a discussion about financial transactions. Relationships aren’t breaking down because people can’t see the monetary benefit of staying together.
- Finally, politicians could make family life more visible in politics. I don’t mean by parading your children (or even your pregnant wife) but by demonstrating that time spent with your family matters, by bringing people into the next cabinet who are allowed to work part-time to balance their work and family life and by contemplating better ways to fitting the demands of a job to family life, rather than vice versa. A new cabinet with job share ministers? Now there’s a thought.
Lisa Harker, co-director, ippr