Some people will be wary of language which suggests that enabling good relationships is the business of the state. However, the state already is involved. Taxpayers pick up many of the costs when relationships fail. The Relationships Foundation has developed a language of Motivation, Opportunity and Support to describe the proper and essential abilities that the state can and should deploy in order to enable thriving lives. This is part of the new approach which sees change as enabled, not bought and delivered. In framing a broad policy agenda, it is helpful to focus on three key areas of influence:
Motivation: influencing the motivation to invest in the relationships that make for thriving lives. Policy should be examined in the light of whether it motivates people to value and strengthen family relationships, thus influencing the relationships that are formed, the discharge of personal responsibilities pertaining to those relationships and the conduct of those relationships. This acknowledges the reality that policy can render certain choices more or less attractive to people.
Opportunity: ensuring that people have the opportunity to invest in the relationships that make for thriving lives. The cumulative impact of policy should also be assessed in the light of whether it provides the opportunities for people to form committed relationships, strengthen family relationships and to fulfil the responsibilities of their role in the family. While policy can create the opportunities for people to make choices that are positive and constructive for family relationships, it can also limit such opportunities.
Support: enabling support for those who cannot achieve the relationships that make for thriving lives themselves. Policy should also be scrutinised through the lens of support – both the support families receive from external sources, such as public services, and the informal relational support that families themselves provide, such as grandparents helping to look after working parents’ children. The support families receive can potentially determine whether fragile relationships are reinforced and whether relationships that are under pressure are strengthened and restored.