He started off by criticising those politicians who avoided talking about relationships, saying that not tackling the issue of relationships undermines the 'grittier' issues that they focused on instead like education, healthcare and tax cuts. "Politics is behind the public on this" he said, noting the popularity of the TV programme Supernanny, Britain's 700 agony aunt columns, and MumsNet.com. "Politicians have feared looking old fashioned, but where has it got us?
UNICEF said we are the world's worst place in the developed world for children to grow up in". Here are the other key points to draw from the speech:
Just like life, it's not all about money - One role of the speech was to meet head-on the critics who think that the Conservatives think that promoting the family - "the best institution in the country" - is all about money, with regard to the promised tax break: "I don't want anyone to think I have a mechanistic view of these things, it's as much about the message than the money". You can have "all the tax breaks and flexible working in the world, but
if the warmth of a family is eroding away it will mean very little". He went on to recognise that this whole area is not very comfortable territory for politicians, as our previous post covered.
Commitment is king - He was "particularly proud of the party's reaction" when he made it clear at a conference that it's about recognising commitment, even in the context of a same sex relationship. "I'm a marriage freak, as it were, because i'm a commitment freak", he said later.
Commercialisation - "Today's world can seem incredibly hostile to parents with children", with each shopping break, music video, etc enticing children with latest toy and exposing them to sex and violence at an incredibly young age. "We need to stand together and accept the influences they are having on children".
Bully pulpit - Noting the chocolate orange issue, he carefully emphasised the role of social pressure, rather than law. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asked for more clarity on where the divide was between the two approaches. He recognised that question itself as a key question in politics, and cited his "great hero, Burke" who said: "Sometimes you need to give a meaning, rather than a law".
Young mothers - "It is a startling, sad fact that parents are more likely to split up in the first year of child's birth than at any other time". Party's proposals on making parental leave more flexible are key. Party is looking at the Dutch system of dedicating a maternity nurse to new mothers. There was a perception that "Conservatives used to think that all young mothers stay at home", but now it seems like "the Labour Government is saying they all should go to work". An approach between two is needed, "the state should be there to support choices people make".
Managing inevitable break-ups - "The one thing worse for a child than family breakdown, is badly handled family breakdown". Maria Miller, Shadow Minister for Families, is looking at how the Australians have set up dozens of centres around the country that are particularly good at delivering post-separation work "to make sure that parents splitting up doesn't mean family breaking up". He said Wade Horn, the American pioneer on family policy, was spot on when he said that "the biggest problem is society's view that success or failure in marriage is a matter of luck, and that there are then just two options - staying together miserably or splitting up".
Taking relationship support seriously - "Relationship support, delivered in the right way to the right people at the right time, can play a major part. Think
about it like this: the costs of social breakdown have been estimated
at £20billion, yet the annual budget of Relate - the organisation
that does so much to stop the breakdown happening in the first place
- is only £24million. Doesn't that demonstrate how our priorities are
wrong?". He outlined four principles for making the most of it:
- Proper funding for relationship support -
Last week's voluntary sector paper talked of giving stability through
multi-year funding. We would find a "huge hidden demand if more people
knew what is available to help when things start going wrong". Social
services already overburdened with the worst problem families, so those
who aren't quite as far down the road can get neglected.
- Help recruit people to deliver it - Need more councillors. "Last year the Government made it much harder when it took away public funding for people wanting a second qualification". Now an aspiring councillor would have to pay £2700pa for a course just because they got a BA twenty years ago. Councillors often come in too late, need to "make it about crisis prevention rather than management". He expressed hope that it would become normal that people would consult a councillor over a nagging problem with their relationship, in the same way they would consult a doctor over a nagging headache.
- Destigmatise it - Need to help people feel that it's not such a big step. Relationship education should be incorporated to sex ed in schools: "schools become even more important when so many children don't have role models at home". Asked to flesh out how he would bring about this cultural change he said it wasn't all down to government, and referred to how the problems of drunk driving and racism in football really changed not just because of a government law but through a cultural change in attitudes. The Mail's Bel Moody pointed out that judging by her letters it's usually the men who aren't emotionally plugged in and don't want to go to councilling.
- Specific action that those harder to reach get help on time - Mainly through a massive increase in the number of universal health visitors, proposals for which the party has already set out.
Question & Answers - A sheepish Glen Oglaza (Sky was filming the speech, as was Newsnight) got booed and hissed for using the first question to ask about Caroline Spelman and the recent stories on expenses - one of many indicators that the assembled audience was very positive about the speech. The FT's Jean Eaglesham asked how the marriage break would be supported by green taxes if he opposed VED etc. Cameron said that he hadn't yet said how it will work, partly because the Government had a tendency to steal his policies.
A representative from OnePlusOne urged Cameron to follow the approach of Wade Horn in investing serious Government money in an evidence-led approach to relationships support. Cameron paid tribute to the extensive research already done by IDS' policy group and emphasised that his support for marriage was "based on evidence more than a sort of religious view".
A representative from Families Need Fathers called for there to be a presumption that the need for the exclusion of one parent from the family post-divorce should be proven, rather than being a default position. Cameron said he didn't want to dive into family law in this speech. He had to dash off but in his absence Relate Chairman Nick Tarsh warmly welcomed his recognition of the centrality of relationships to peoples' lives, and importance of the emotional component to those relationships.