Many Conservatives anxious to put clear blue water between us and Labour think of lower tax as one policy option that Gordon Brown will never embrace. Support for marriage is another such policy option and indifference to the family is a leading reason why Labour is failing in its social exclusion agenda.
A new report from the Fabian Society will, this week, recommend new ways for Labour to get back on track with its child poverty targets. Today's Independent previews some of the report's likely recommendations:
- "higher state benefits for pregnant women on income support;
- a 50p top rate of tax on the rich;
- targets for schools to close the "qualifications gap" between poor and better-off pupils;
- a shift away from tax credits towards high-quality, state-funded child care;
- higher child benefit, such as bigger payments for second and subsequent children;
- a more generous minimum wage;
- back-up for pregnant women to be concentrated on the disadvantaged;
- one year's paid parental leave transferable between parents; and
- a shake-up of inheritance tax so that it hits recipients rather than the estate of the deceased."
There is nothing new in these recommendations. It is a typically left-wing, big state view of the world. Every idea involves an expansion of the power and size of the state and no recommendation addresses the importance of marriage and the family. The family - and marriage, in particular - is the greatest weapon society has against poverty. Before last year's General Election this is what the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to all of Britain's political leaders:
"The crime problem has a lot to do with a growing number of young people who are severely emotionally undernourished and culturally alienated. Ask anyone who works with children or young people in any city. The climate of chronic family instability, sexual chaos and exploitation, drug abuse and educational disadvantage is a lethal cocktail. To call for more public support for stable families and marriage is not in this context a bit of middle-class, Middle England nostalgia; it’s life and death."
This Labour government remains almost wholly indifferent to the health of marriage, however. David Cameron has pointed out
that "the average taxpayer now contributes at least £570 every year to
the direct costs of family breakdown, but only 21p is spent on trying
to save troubled relationships".
The Fabian report looks set to call for more targets despite the
evidence which shows that such targets distort the behaviour of
professionals. Targets are part of the measurement culture and the
welfare state neatly fits into this culture. Bureaucrats can measure
the number of people receiving benefits and the amounts they receive.
The care provided by the family and the other 3D institutions of the welfare society
- friendship networks and local charities and churches - is almost
impossible to measure and therefore gets neglected by the central
planners. As they increase the resourcing of the poverty-fighting
instruments they can measure - all those things identified by the
Fabian Society - they are taxing and sidelining those superior
institutions of the welfare society - the output of which they cannot
Until our government directs a comprehensive policy to reward and uphold the still popular aspiration to marry we will not tackle the root causes of major public policy challenges - like the growth of crime and the booming demand for new housing.