Stephen Beer, Blog, Stephen Beer

Stephen Beer (www.stephenbeer.com)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Family politics

This post was originally posted on www.stephenbeer.com/blog .

The New Year has begun with Conservative plans for health unravelling and, on the same day, David Cameron appearing to dilute their policy on marriage tax allowances.

The whole area of family policy is fraught with difficulties. We all have experience of family in one way or another and each family is unique. That said, surely there must be an alternative to either rewarding traditional family models or adopting a laissez faire approach to family policy, with the state sorting out the consequences? Dare I say it, is there even a ‘third way’ for the politics of the family?

That’s the approach I took when co-writing the lead article for the Common Good, the Christian Socialist Movement’s magazine. Each issue focuses on a theme, with a variety of articles on a subject giving different opinions and perspectives. The lead article introduces the theme with both opinion and some key facts and explanations. The new issue is looking at the family.

What matters is stable families. It’s not the government’s job to dictate how people should organise their lives – relationships can be hard enough work at times as it is. Indeed if the most stable families do indeed tend to have married parents (which does not mean being married leads to a more stable family necessarily), we should be focusing resources on those who most need support. That means lone parents and families with children in poverty. It’s also those people for whom things haven’t worked out as they hoped. It’s possible for Labour to do this while being positive and supportive of marriage too – most people celebrate weddings for example whatever their own take on relationships or particular circumstances at the time. After all, if two people are prepared to make a public commitment that they will be together for the rest of their lives in marriage or partnership why should we avoid talking about it?

Labour needs to shift its language on this a bit. Then we can concentrate on what matters most in terms of government policy and that is promoting family stability within communities and providing support to poorer families, with a focus on ensuring that we get nearer to providing equal opportunities to all children and young people.

It was clear this week that Cameron’s plan for a marriage tax allowance is has not been thought through. It’s designed to give the impression the Conservatives support marriage. One thing of course that does help family stability, including marriages, is an economic policy focused on the whole nation with an emphasis on fighting unemployment. Yet the Conservative’s economic policy is in a worse state than their family policy.

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