Cameron sending out mixed messages on family policy

David Cameron’s speech last week seemed in part to signify a welcome shift away from a focus on marriage alone, reports Kate Bell, formerly of Gingerbread.

Kate Bell is a former director of policy at Gingerbread, the charity providing expert advice, practical support and campaigns for single parents; Kate is currently a student at the LSE

David Cameron’s speech to Relate last week seemed in part to signify a welcome shift away from a focus on marriage alone, to supporting strong relationships, whether between parents who live together or those who live apart. He said:

“When I talk about families, I don’t just mean the married with two children model… to me, a strong family is defined not by its shape, but by the love and support that’s in it – and we need to be there for all of them…

“There are millions of separated and divorced parents who continue to have a really good relationship just as there are married couples who go through real difficulties.”

All the evidence suggests that it’s not marriage that matters, but the quality of parental relationships – this IFS study, for example, found that young children’s cognitive and emotional development is not significantly affected by the marital status of their parents.

Yet the prime minister remains committed to recognising marriage in the tax system, confirming that:

“… it is wrong that we’re one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t properly recognise marriage in the tax system – and I want to see that change.”

There’s good evidence that financial incentives have little impact on whether people decide to stay together or not. But if, as it seems, Mr Cameron believes that a £3 a week tax break will influence people’s decisions about their relationships, it is clear that he will need to think again about the proposed family benefit cap which will provide a much larger incentive to split up.

As Sam Royston from Family Action has shown, because the proposed cap on the amount of benefits that any one family can receive takes no account of family size, for larger families it provides a financial incentive to split up and form two separate households. As Sam points out, the policy means that a household with four children could be £9,000 a year better off living in two households rather than one.

Government needs to decide whether or not it wants to support marriage, and whether it thinks that financial incentives make a difference to whether people stay together or not. If the answer to both these questions remains yes despite the evidence, then the family benefit cap is directly in opposition to what they want to achieve.

12 Responses to “Cameron sending out mixed messages on family policy”

  1. Will Straw

    Great piece by Kate Bell on why Cameron is sending out mixed messages on family policy: http://bit.ly/fQ2hw7 (via @leftfootfwd)

  2. R Gordon

    RT @wdjstraw: Great piece by Kate Bell on why Cameron is sending out mixed messages on family policy: http://bit.ly/fQ2hw7 via @leftfootfwd

  3. TeresaMary

    RT @anpa2001: RT @wdjstraw: Great piece by Kate Bell on why Cameron is sending out mixed messages on family policy: http://bit.ly/fQ2hw7

  4. Anon E Mouse

    This article is nothing more than the musings of a person who disagrees with the coalition government attempting to articulate an argument on that basis to “prove” some point that is irrelevant.

    Why don’t left wing blogs work together to admit they backed the wrong Labour leader (in the way they supported and excused the unelectable Gordon Brown) and then in the future with the dithering Ed Miliband out of the way and Alan Johnson or his brother in place they may become electable again.

    This item serves only to show how out of touch Labour supporters are and why they need to get a grip or get used to opposition. Stop ignoring the elephant in the room – or not in Ed Milibands case…

  5. John Simmons

    Cameron sending out mixed messages on family policy http://bit.ly/hPdDSP

  6. Éoin Clarke

    Family is of fundamental importance to a child’s sense of well being. But sadly the word family is the most abused work in the UK. Children, ironically, are oblivious to the misspropriation of the term. For a child, Family can mean anything from their goldfish, favourite teddy, or the old woman accross the street that helps her walk the dog. It does not always mean a married man and woman of affluent background with a stay at home mum. The word family, could if used the right way, be the most beautiful and inclusive word in the English dictionary. Sadly, when I hear its use in our society, I find myself, more often than not, recoiling in dismay. 🙁

  7. Jim Gleeson

    RT @wdjstraw: Great piece by Kate Bell on why Cameron is sending out mixed messages on family policy: http://bit.ly/fQ2hw7 (via @leftfoo …

  8. Eddy Anderson

    Pipped me to it Left Foot Forward!

    I must say I’m amazed how under-reported this U-turn has been. Stinks of media bias, methinks. If Nick Clegg had shifted his policy so dramatically, the press would be all over him!

    Wait . . . why am I writing hypothetically?

    http://politicalreboot.blogspot.com/2010/12/camerons-u-turn-on-married-couples.html

  9. Bryonny G-H

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron sending out mixed messages on family policy http://bit.ly/g4fdQZ

  10. Paul Akroyd

    Cameron sending out mixed messages on family policy | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/hj34a6S9

  11. Mr Nasty: The regressive, judgemental horror of IDS’ marriage tax plans | Left Foot Forward

    […] December, Kate Bell, former director of policy at Gingerbread, wrote on these pages: “All the evidence suggests that it’s not marriage that matters, but the quality […]

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