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IDS seeks common ground with Liberal Democrats on family policy; Let's Just Stop Penalising Stability

By Tim Montgomerie
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6a00d83451b31c69e2015392c60950970bThe Daily Mail savages the Coalition on an almost daily basis and this week's confrontations came on immigration and also the family. Thursday's frontpage shouted: Betrayal Of The Family. The Mail continued: "Despite all those Tory promises, fathers and grandparents will still be denied the right to see children after a divorce". Charlie Elphicke MP led the outrage from the Tory benches. Children, he blogged, should have the right to know both parents.

In a speech in Oxford last night Iain Duncan Smith attempted to launch a fightback. Although Eric Pickles has been put in charge of coordinating family policy (in a bizarre Coalition compromise because the LibDems could not tolerate IDS taking the lead) the Welfare Secretary still has responsibility at Cabinet Committee level for overall social justice strategy. His speech last night set out to change the frame in which family policy is seen. So much of what IDS and Cameron have long wanted to do has been presented as "privileging" the family. Wrong, says IDS. First of all we must stop the harm produced by the current system.

He began last night's speech by attacking the idea that recent governments had been neutral towards the family. He listed the ways in which Labour had actively undermined family structures:

"Start with the introduction of the Tax Credit system, which introduced a strong disincentive to couple formation into the welfare system. Not neutral there.

And take the fact that our work at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) showed a whole cohort of ‘missing couples’ down at the bottom of the income scale, suggesting that the welfare system was having a significant effect on couple formation. Not neutral there either.

Take the fact that at the CSJ we also found that the money being spent on the prevention of family breakdown was only around 0.02% of what was being spent on dealing with the consequences. Not neutral there.

And what about when families split up?  The child maintenance system we inherited was designed to promote antagonism at every level – just at the moment when children most needed stability. And a court system which like far too many institutions of the state seems to have forgotten the importance of the father and the extended family. Helping to drive a wedge between couples on the verge of breaking up does little for the children. Not so neutral there either.

In fact, whilst successive politicians have claimed to be neutral, they have failed to understand the extent to which the institutions of the state have been anything but. We have inherited a position which rewards break up and penalises stability."

If Duncan Smith can get the Lib Dems to sign up to simply creating a level playing field we'll have progressed a very long way.


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