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Andrew Selous MP: Every family matters

Andrew Selous, Shadow Minister for Family Welfare and Child Support, looks at ways that the costs of social breakdown can be assuaged by pro-family policies.

In my local press I have written recently about the social breakdown that lead over the summer to the horrific murders of four year old Leticia Wright by her mother and her partner, 15 year old Jessie James for not wanting to join a gang and the married father of three daughters, Garry Newlove, who was trying to prevent his car from being ransacked. Since then, we have had the horrific murder of Rhys Jones, caught in the crossfire of rival gangs.   

We need the toughest possible criminal justice system to deter, punish and rehabilitate those responsible for the appalling crimes, but we also need to step back and see what we have to do as a nation to restore civility and reverse the spiral of social breakdown that has lead to these incidents and many more across the United Kingdom. In this article I want to suggest some positive policies to end the costs of social breakdown looking particularly at the family.

One of my greatest criticisms of this Labour government is that they have a depressing acceptance of the inevitability of widespread family breakdown.  Other countries as diverse as Malaysia, America, Singapore and Australia are all taking positive steps to give families the skills and support to make a success of their couple and parental relationships.  This work should take place in the voluntary sector and be quite distinct from the role of social services who have the power to take away children from parents who are putting their welfare at risk.  So many families these days do not have a role model within the nuclear or even extended family  of lifelong committed healthy marriages and relationships.  That is why the approach of Harry Benson and the Community Family Trust movement and the National Couple Support network is so important and deserves greater recognition, praise and support. 

Educational failure, worklessness and economic dependency, addictions and indebtedness all also contribute to social breakdown and weaken family life.  It is also true however that the healthier our family relationships, the better chance we all have of coping with all these difficulties.  I know from my own surveying of the opinions of young people in my own South West Bedfordshire constituency over the last 4 years, that 80% believe that family breakdown is a major problem in the UK today.  So what could we do differently?

Here are 10 suggestions from Iain Duncan Smith’s excellent ‘Breakthrough Britain’ report on ending the costs of social breakdown.

   1. Develop family services hubs with enhanced roles for health visitors in supporting parents in their children’s’ first three years to help their cognitive and emotional development.

   2. Provide relationship and parenting support to 800,000 families a year locally, through the voluntary sector as well as working with schools.

   3. Establish a new Marriage and Relationships Institute to champion and administer a major series of preventative initiatives, thus getting away from the current view that widespread family breakdown is inevitable.

   4. Reduce the brutal discrimination against couples in the tax and benefit by providing more help to low income couples, some of whom lose up to £8,500 a year if they openly live together.

   5. Allow childcare tax credit to be paid to grandparents, other relatives and trusted friends to expand the informal care of children that many parents prefer.

   6. Make child benefit flexible, so that a larger proportion of the child’s total entitlement would be available in the first three years when parents most want to spend time caring for their children.

   7. Support family cohesion post separation by providing practical support as Australia does to help achieve good contact arrangements as well as providing help to prevent subsequent marriage or partnership breakdowns.

   8. Local Councils should actively use the powers in the Statistics and Registration Bill to ensure that Registrars [who marry two thirds of couples] publicise and promote relationship support programmes.  I am talking to our councils in Bedfordshire about this.

   9. Pay housing benefit quarterly in advance [with subsequent adjustments if necessary] to help families avoid rent arrears.

  10. Expand ‘supported housing’ projects to work with young families who might otherwise fail in their tenancies.  Homestart in South Bedfordshire and Bromford Housing in Warwickshire are good examples of this.

So, whenever the Prime Minister calls an election, in addition to bold policies on controlling immigration, making the police more accountable, improving literacy, providing locally sensitive housing and health policies, allowing English votes on English laws and a referendum on the EU constitution, I believe we will have the best policies to help the poor and tackle social breakdown which costs us all over £100 billion per year.


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