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Maria Miller MP: Making Britain the most family friendly country in the world


Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the Family, outlines the measures the Conservatives are proposing to help families stay together.

A strong, stable family life is critical for every child. That is why we have put the family at the heart of our vision and why are committed to making Britain the most family friendly country in the world.   

Families shapes our children’s outlook and provide that all important emotional and practical support. As David Cameron said earlier this week, it is the family that can do the most to build a culture of personal responsibility that will remain for the rest of our lives.

70% of young people aspire to have a stable long term relationship; many still want to demonstrate that commitment by getting married. Yet, despite this clear preference for stability, Britain has one of the highest levels of family breakdown in Europe.

Our package of policies will help support families to stay together, right from the start, so that they can thrive in modern Britain. 

Children flourish in a stable family environment. However, the current benefits system gives couples with children more money if they live apart. Our first reform will be to support families to stay together by ending this ‘couple penalty’. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has clearly shown that children brought up in two-parent families have a better start in life. David Cameron has reiterated that marriage will be recognised in the tax and benefit system bringing Britain into line with the rest of the western world. 

But families face pressure points which can undermine stability. In particular, parents are more likely to split up in the first year after the birth of a child than at any other time. So much of the support and advice parents relied on in the past is no longer there; little wonder three out of four mums say they feel lonely and isolated after their babies are born. We want to introduce measures at particular pressure points in family life to help families survive and flourish in the long-term.   

That is why we have announced that we will put in place an additional 4,200 health visitors by 2010 to support all families during those critical first months and years when family life is at its most fragile. 

Many other countries have already recognised that modern families are under pressure. The Dutch Kraamzorg system helps new mothers with practical support in the home in the first few days after the birth of a child and we are committed to introducing our version of this in Britain.

Most families have to juggle work and family life because of economic necessity. Affordable childcare is essential. The overly complicated tax credit system means only one in four eligible families are receiving the financial support they need. The system must be simplified to make childcare more easily available to those who need it.      

Sure Start has an important role in helping the most deprived families but it has been ineffective in closing the attainment gap despite over £1.8 billion being spent every year.  We will refocus the work of Sure Start by using our expanded professional health visitor service to effectively reach those families who most need help.

Finally, as all parents know, the pressure on family life does not end when children go to school. The teenage years can be some of the most difficult and parents need to be around. That is why we will go further than the government and introduce the right to request flexible working for parents with children up to the age of 18. 

Stronger families can help address some of the most entrenched social problems we face today. Conservatives are the only party that will deliver the reforms needed to strengthen families and ultimately strengthen society.

Within this 'A Government Worth Having' series Michael Gove wrote about schools policy on Monday, Chris Grayling about welfare on Tuesday and Nick Herbert on prisons yesterday.  Greg Clark MP will write the final piece in this part of the series tomorrow.


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