The government’s feeble policy on strengthening families

What is the government doing to strengthen families? Given that providing support for families that have broken down costs £51 billion per year at

What is the government doing to strengthen families?

Given that providing support for families that have broken down costs £51 billion per year at last count, that around 45 per cent of all teens are not living with both natural parents, and that Britain has the worst family instability in the entire developed world, a determined and coherent policy to strengthen families would seem somewhat urgent.

Well, now we know, thanks to the Home Office answer to a parliamentary question asked by the redoubtable ‘one woman think tank’ Fiona Bruce MP.

However just before we look at what the government says it is doing, let’s look at the ‘Manifesto to Strengthen Families‘ that Fiona persuaded 50 Tory MPs and peers to sign.

It’s full of policy proposals that, as a whole, might actually make a difference

  • Cabinet level support for supporting families
  • Local one-stop family hubs
  • Promote the importance of fathers
  • Remove or offset the universal credit ‘couple penalty’ that penalises commitment
  • Link parenting classes with child care
  • Ensure family support as part of child mental health services
  • Promote commitment and relationship education in school and beyond
  • Family support in prison to reduce reoffending

Almost uniquely for a manifesto supported by a significant number of politicians, it shamelessly includes the word ‘marriage’ some fifteen times. This is especially important since the number one driver of family breakdown is the trend away from marriage and the number one driver of teenage mental health problems is family breakdown.

For example, the manifesto suggests that the government should monitor declining marriage rates and not be neutral about a relationship status that is inherently more stable. The Marriage Allowance should be increased and targeted for low income married couples, to offset the ‘couple penalty’. Marriage fees should be waived for couples who take part in an accredited marriage preparation course. And government sponsored relationship education in schools should feature the ‘evidence-based importance of marriage to boost confidence why marriage matters.

Policies like this would stand a decent chance of actually strengthening families because they send a big signal that the government thinks family matters and that marriage and stability are demonstrably important; they would actively encourage higher levels of commitment and remove disincentives not to commit formally; and they would give families confidence in the skills needed to manage their relationships and parenting

Most of what is currently spent on family breakdown goes on managing the aftermath of family breakdown or dysfunction. So to strengthen families specifically means to strengthen the parent-parent and parent-child bonds so that family breakdown and dysfunction happens less often in the first place.

That’s what Fiona Bruce’s document is all about.

So in response to her question, what does the Home Office think it is doing to strengthen families? Let me summarise the 195 word policy answer

  • We give you the ability to marry
  • We help prevent forced marriage
  • We allow both parents to register a birth, and include father’s details ‘as far as practicable’
  • We let non-EEA immigrant partners and relatives join their families
  • We support victims of domestic abuse which ‘indirectly helps reduce family breakdown’

I kid you not. That’s it. I can’t bring myself to cut and paste the full answer in all its fobbing-off vacuity. Read it here if you must. It won’t take long as it’s only four short paragraphs.

I have no idea how Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister who signed off on this lame, pointless, badly written pap, has the gall to claim any of it has anything whatsoever to do with strengthening families!

It’s not even obvious that bringing a whole family into the UK helps avoid family breakdown. It certainly prevents families living in separate countries. But lots of families do that voluntarily around the world without necessarily leading to family breakdown.

So that’s what we’re dealing with. Years of policy work by the likes of Fiona Bruce and other MPs, think tanks such as the Centre for Social Justice and Marriage Foundation, and all we have is ‘you can get married and you can also put your name on a birth certificate’.

Thank the Lord for sunny weather …

With thanks to Dave Percival of for highlighting this in his newsletter … 

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