8 Feb 2007

"Parliament cannot tiptoe around this matter for much longer" - Alistair Burt MP [Shadow Minister for Communities & Local Government]

Dan Boucher, CARE’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs said, “Given its undisputed positive impact, with all kinds of public policy benefits, we believe that government should work to support and strengthen the institution of marriage in Britain today both through fiscal policy and through greater investment ‘proactively’ in marriage preparation as well as ‘reactively’ through marriage guidance counselling. At the beginning of National Marriage week [5th February 2007] we would urge the government to back its rhetorical commitment to the value of marriage with robust marriage friendly policies.”

On the same day as the launch of National Marriage Week, James Brokenshire (Hornchurch, Conservative) [Shadow Minister - Homeland Security] asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, "how she measures the extent of family breakdown in the context of her policies on community cohesion; whether figures on family breakdown are collected by (a) region and (b) local authority area; and if she will make a statement?"

Phil Woolas [Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government] responded lamely, "The Government do not collect statistics on numbers of family breakdowns outside of divorce, given that relationship breakdowns outside of divorce are difficult to define and record. Community cohesion measurements primarily focus on how well people from different backgrounds get on together in the local area......."

So never mind the fact that there were 35,000 reported incidents of domestic violence in West Yorkshire last year and the year before, let's talk about 'how well people from different backgrounds get on together in the local area'; so much easier to 'define and record'!

The ONS don't even publish divorce figures by neighbourhood or local authority, so the fact of the matter is that HMG is seriously not interested in trying to "measure the extent of family breakdown in the context of .... policies on community cohesion", indeed, nor in any other context.

And this is despite what Phil Woolas said on Thursday 20 October 2005 in a debate about the Social Exclusion Unit, "The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire [Alistair Burt] concluded his thoughtful speech by making some suggestions for the future. I shall certainly respond to his requests. I am particularly interested in his third point, because he said something important. It is clear to us all, and from the evidence and analysis provided by the social exclusion unit, that stability in a child's life is a key driver.......... Government policy is, of course, not intended to discriminate against marriage or family. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that, unintentionally, it may seem to do so and, on occasion, probably does. The policy is for a stable and normal environment for children and young people with difficult lives."

"Government policy is, of course, not intended to discriminate against marriage or family." He must be joking!

[The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, was bitterly ironic at the launch of Mational Marriage Week: "the fluidity and changeability of relationships and the transience of marriage may look perfectly fine if you belong to the commentating classes of north London, but you don’t have to go very many miles to see what the cost is for people who can’t take that sort of thing for granted."]

Alistair Burt had said, "....... let me deal with the toughest nut of all. The Minister talked about digging deeper and thinking more radically, so let me ask him this question. What role does the unit believe family and relationship breakdown in the UK play in long-term deprivation and social exclusion? The Minister and the unit must now realise, after so many of its projects and researches, that such breakdown has had a catastrophic effect, that it is getting worse, and that there are no substantial policy initiatives to address it. There are initiatives to ameliorate the symptoms and to compensate for the losses incurred, but that is not enough. Years of study have now made it clear just how damaging relationship and family breakdown is. The Government, the Opposition and Parliament cannot tiptoe around this matter for much longer."

But they are all still on tiptoe. There are no policies from any political quarter.

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