Government departments must consider the impact of their policies on the family, the Prime Minister announced on Monday. In his speech David Cameron said that from October every new domestic policy “will be examined for its impact on the family”.
The Prime Minister unveiled several policy initiatives relevant to families including the doubling of the budget for relationship counselling through Relate to £19.5 million, an increase in funding for councils who want to speed up adoptions and the expansion of a programme of assistance for “problem families” who struggle with unemployment and debt. He also suggested that online music videos on sites such as YouTube and Vimeo could be given age ratings in the same way as films and DVDs.
“I want every government department to be held to account for the impact of their policies on the family,” he said.
“Whether it’s the benefits system incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work or whether it’s excessive bureaucracy preventing loving couples from adopting children with no family at all, we can’t go on having government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family. Put simply that means every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.”
The Prime Minister’s words echoed those of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor 10 years ago at a parliamentary briefing organised by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN). The former Archbishop of Westminster said: “Building strong families is a sensible and cost-effective goal of Government social policy.”
The Prime Minister’s words have been welcomed on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Elizabeth Davies, Marriage and Family Life Project Officer, said: “We certainly welcome David Cameron’s announcement that all policies should be weighed against the potential for good – and not so good – that they might have on families. Obviously families have many different needs depending on their size, structure, stage of life etc. but fundamental is the need to be able to earn a satisfying living, whilst also having enough time to rest, relax and enjoy time together.”
She continued: “The working document for the forthcoming Synod on the Family has noted the impact of work on the family, especially that ‘an increasingly hectic life leaves little opportunity for moments of peace and family togetherness’. It is critical that Government seeks ways to alleviate the pressures of balancing our work-home-life responsibilities. Families play a fundamental role in church and society and deserve grateful, appreciative encouragement and a family-sensitive political economy.”
But a spokesman for the campaigning group the Marriage Foundation, while welcoming Mr Cameron’s support for the family, warned that without explicit support for marriage his initiatives will have little or no impact on family breakdown.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said research director Harry Benson. “Coalition policies during their first four years in government would struggle to pass a ‘family test’. We have a tax credit system that pays couples up to £7,100 more to live apart than together, a tax system that penalises single earners who choose to leave one parent at home, and a raft of government forms that pretend living together is the equal of marriage. In terms of stability, it is anything but.”
He continued: “Family breakdown is not inevitable. But so much is driven by the trend away from marriage. Few couples who don’t marry, who don’t make that explicit commitment to their future together, remain together while they bring up their children. Mr Cameron has long stated his enthusiasm for commitment and marriage. He is right. So ‘family test’ needs to mean ‘marriage test’.”
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