Coffee House

Why the left needs to back families and commitment

19 June 2014

The last Labour government oversaw a major expansion of support for families, with new investment in childcare, tax credits, maternity leave and children’s centres. Despite this investment, the left still struggles to demonstrate its ‘pro-family’ credentials and to affirm its backing for parents and committed family relationships.

Too often, this leaves us conceding important political territory, allowing the right to claim it understands families best. In a major new report, The Condition of Britain, IPPR argues that we need to show we back parents who are working hard to raise their children – including unequivocally supporting committed relationships.

For most of us, family is what we care about most, the embodiment of our aspirations and obligations. Despite the rising number of children born outside wedlock, we still aspire to marry or to form strong, stable relationships in which to raise our children. When we make that commitment to each other, we expect our friends and family, wider society and the state to back us. Yet many on the left struggle to articulate their support for commitment.


Part of the problem is a squeamishness about talking up the importance of stable relationships for fear of accusations of moralising or interfering in private lives. Politicians worry that they will be reproached for doing down lone parents or those whose relationships have broken down. A sharper concern is that they will be criticised for double standards because of failings in their own personal lives.

The result is a determination to remain resolutely neutral on the question of family structure and relationships. Without question, we must support families in all their diversity and the state should not privilege particular kinds of relationships or discriminate against those not in a relationship. But affirming support for commitment does not mean telling others how to live or looking down on those who are not in a relationship.

The other problem is that, in power, Labour’s family policy sometimes played down the role of parents in raising children. For instance, its child poverty strategy risked implying that the state rather than parents bear the primary responsibility for raising family incomes. While Labour’s investments generated real improvements in the quality of life of many families in Britain, at times it risked making families dependent on a benevolent state, undermining the importance of parental responsibility.

In an era of limited budgets, the priority must be to create the conditions in which families can thrive under their own steam.We need to take seriously the pressures on family life, not least the continued squeeze on living standards. But we must also demonstrate that we recognise and will nurture the capacities and strengths found within families, rather than being blind to people’s need for commitment, or playing down the critical role of parents in raising children.

In policy terms, this requires a bold ‘pro-family’ investment strategy that enables parents to work rather than relying on benefits to raise incomes, while protecting family time when it is most precious. IPPR proposes a guarantee of affordable, year-round, full-time childcare for all preschool children. We also want to see a full month of leave for working fathers, paid at least the minimum wage, and paid time off for dads to attend antenatal appointments. This would enable fathers to play a full role in parenting right from the start. And we propose weighting cash benefits towards young children, when parents find it harder to work, by allowing child benefit for to rise with inflation for under-fives but freezing it for older children to help fund investments in childcare.

We also need an unashamedly ‘pro-commitment’ strategy that backs relationships as well as supporting those facing relationship breakdown or parenting alone. The Conservatives want to achieve this with a tax break that only benefits a minority of married couples, although thankfully, they do not claim that anyone will choose to marry or stay married for a financial reward. We think a better use of this money would be to provide practical support for couples to stay together or make the process of relationship breakdown a little smoother, by giving everyone an entitlement to couples counselling when their relationship is under pressure. And we argue that a better way to signal support for marriage would be to end marriage notice fees, so that the state no longer charges couples for the pleasure of tying the knot.

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  • Fiendorfoe

    So today, as well as the Owls Agenda, Labour has brought forward 2 contradictory policies on reforming the State and expanding the State. I guess that passes for joined up thinking nowadays – but then again Orwell blew the whistle on their intellectual and moral capabilities.

  • Richard

    “In an era of limited budgets, the priority must be to create the conditions in which families can thrive under their own steam.”

    Precisely what an expanding, low tax economy would achieve.

    “…at times (Labour’s investments) risked making families
    dependent on a benevolent state, undermining the importance of parental

    Precisely what capping benefits and making work pay would prevent.

    I trust the author will be voting Conservative at the next election.

  • Alexsandr

    this drivel made me impossibly angry. How did this stupid woman get anywhere not understanding the difference between investment and spending.
    Hope the speccie didnt pay her for this sub-standard article.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Why do urban liberals always have stupid spellings of common names to make them seem better than us plebs?

    The Labour Party has done more to undermine the family than any other institution in this country. They don’t want to help families, they want to control them just like they want to control everything else and this is no different.

    Instead of leaving parents to care for their children Labour want to extend the time that the state control their children while their serf-like parents go off and earn even more taxes for a profligate Labour government.

    Not only that but once again are trying to capture young parents in a poverty traP and make them dependent of government by dishing out more money to the deserving. So instead of not taking the money from them in the first place by lowering taxes, Labour has to take the money from them, verfiy they deserve to have the money (using Labour’s perverse and corrupt set of values) and then if the families are deserving enough they will get it back again.

    Its the same bribery driven dependency politics and control freakery that has always made Labour so reprehensible!

    • RobertC

      “Why do urban liberals always give their children stupidly spelt otherwise common names to make them seem better than us plebs?”

      They cannot spell.

  • CharlietheChump

    Socialists “caring” about the family. Oxymoron.

    Don’t dribble on about benefits either.

  • swatnan

    Its been my long held belief that we only help the deserving poor. The others can fend for themselves.

    • MrsDBliss

      I would argue that help should go to the undeserving poor as we are all undeserving of help at some stage, but desperately want and need it. However this should be in the form of charity, a real charity not the current state subsidised lot, as that is what it is. It should not be through enforced taxation.

  • global city

    The Left have been at war against the nuclear family for decades, as they view it as a bulwark against seeing sense in their mental ideas.

    • The Masked Marvel

      Exactly. For the Left, the State is all: father, mother, secret lover. Hence we get things like this blog post where some silly person expresses shock that Labour’s attempt to create a dependent client population doesn’t win them accolades as being “pro-family”.

  • Usawme

    Trouble is, everyone has pretensions of grandeur.

    Blame the Celeb culture and those ghastly talent shows /reality progs on the box !

  • Torybushhug

    The lefts endemic welfare legacy;
    Woman called into LBC Radio this morning and angered many as she was saying her 2 kids have to ‘suffer’ the indignity of sharing a room in a 2 bed flat.

    This is the inevitable result of mass endemic welfare culture. Mindless moronic entitled jellyfish that require solutions handed them on a plate. Not a flicker across her mind that she is not deprived, no sense her life is the result of her actions.

    My FIL and his family of 10 lived in one small farm cottage, not once do you hear them bemoaning their childhood or claiming that somehow the universe owes them more, it’s truly pathetic we’ve got to this point. The left should be bloody ashamed of this toxic dumbing down.

  • LadyDingDong

    Where to begin to deconstruct this meaningless, mendacious drivel? Let me start with your opening sentence: “The last Labour government oversaw a major expansion of support for families, with new investment in childcare, tax credits, maternity leave and children’s centres”. One of Labour’s most heinous crimes is the misappropriation of the English language and I must remind you my dear that investment is not the same as on-going expenditure, as any junior accountant will inform you. It is possible that Labour ‘invested’ in children’s centres but the recurring and ongoing costs of childcare and tax credits were met by the taxpayer, and maternity leave by the taxpayer and employers, and could never be considered as investment except by economic illiterates such Owen Jones and those who inhabit the comments sections of the Guardian and the front benches of the party to which you belong.

    I won’t critique past the first sentence as I will lose the will to live, but thank you very much for writing to remind us all what a disaster Labour were, and would still be, and to keep me from having to visit the Guardian where this crap is available 24/7.

    • HookesLaw

      Yes well fair’s where is fair and you are right. What Labour actually oversaw was a vast over inflated expansion of public spending for no good purpose.

      Its hard to put your finger on just what was and is wrong with Gordon Brown and to determine just what went on inside his head. But he equated spending with doing good and never thought to suppose that most of what he spent was actually wasted and indeed counter productive.

      The purpose of the ‘drivel’ is to peddle the need for more child care. But what is laughable is the suggestion that the child care on offer must be ‘affordable’. Well how do you do that? Pay the carers peanuts? Or is this just another state subsidy? Where will these carers come from who will train them and who will pay them a living wage so they can care for their own children?

      Even more laughable labours commitment to relationships is to provide counselling when the relationship has ended! We will all need counselling if Miliband gains power – all the more reason to vote to make sure he does not.

      • DavidL

        What went on inside Gordon Brown’s head? Surely it was a calculated attempt to broaden the welfare payroll to hitherto unimagined horizons, (funded by the taxes raised from financial services); the purpose being to try to convert as many of the electorate as possible into welfare-dependent Labour voters. I wonder what Plan B is: this article doesn’t shed much light.

        • HookesLaw

          If only it were as simple as that.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          He also intended to change the ‘spending paradigm’ I.e to spend so much that it would be impossible to turn off the taps. You would have to say that, in his own catastrophic, malignant and economically disastrous way, he succeeded.

      • Torybushhug

        “But he equated spending with doing good”
        This is a key lefty trait. They want to feel someone somewhere is handing out duckets to street urchins.
        For them this is a progressive act.
        They are blind to the huge detriment this has bought about as exemplified by the British sense of entitlement to having a state hand you answers and reward you for bad choices. In a state where no one is allowed to fail, your choices can be irrelevant – in the end you’ll be fed and housed, it will all come good.
        The greatest victims here are the children growing up with this example of rewards for bad choices like having 3 babies by different girls.
        I long for some lefties to come sit in my office for a day to shatter their reactionary narrow reality tunnels.
        Today for example the letting agent within my office (I’m not an agent) has interviewed 8 E European couples seeking accommodation. They have ok English and no particular training. All are recent arrivals, all earning fair incomes such as £25k as a warehouseman in a food wholesaler, or £24k as a KFC supervisor, or £21k as a self employed beautician (she rents space in an established beauty practice).
        They default to work, their attitude has not been warped by endemic welfare. They have no sense of being deprived or disadvantaged, they do not reach for the lame excuses from the left such as the lack of training.
        They look not to their state to hand them solutions.
        We must return to the dignified safety net we were perfectly content with in the 60’s.
        God this is frustrating. The left completely bend reality.

    • CharlietheChump

      Wonderful M’Lady!

    • English_Woman

      Fabulous comment.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Well said your Ladyship. Try to get a Leftist to understand that the fundamental principle of investment is to obtain a return which exceeds the cost of funding that investment in the first place is like nailing jelly to a ceiling. They are mentally incapable of understanding this concept or ‘money’ in general. Leftists only believe one thing: ‘I can spend your money better than you can’.

  • Pier66

    Labour needs back home…like FOOTBALL COMING HOME 1996….

  • alabenn

    Another crock of crap explaining how despite breaking the bank on cash for votes did not work because, they did not give a big enough bribe.
    Squandering borrowed money on public sector middle class families who can afford to pay their own childcare costs will not do anything for working class families, they cannot afford the tax they pay to subsidise the non jobs these people do.

  • Last Man Standing

    Married couples and the children of married couples do better than those who are unwilling to make a commitment. The rest of us pick up the costs. Politicians would be best served supporting traditional British social institutions that work instead of trying to undermine them. If two people are not willing to make a public commitment through marriage then they are not committed – whatever they may say and believe – and the statistics prove it.

    Encourage marriage, don’t undermine stable relations with easy divorce, and don’t undermine parents by taking away their right and responsibility to parent.

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