The Relationships Foundation has been closely following the progress of the current government parties from their manifesto commitments and the coalition agreement until now. We welcomed the Prime Minister’s ambitious pledge to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe and an early speech he made on wellbeing (“It is absolutely right that people’s wellbeing often depends on the quality of their relationships, so we should ask as a country, why do we spend billions and billions on the consequences of family breakdown, but so little on trying to help families stay together,”) We recognise that welcome progress has been made by the Office of National Statistics with measuring wellbeing on a national scale but, overall, there has a lamentable lack of direction and purpose except from the Department of Work and Pensions’ Social Justice Strategy
The Relationships Foundation has been calling for a clear strategy on the family with cabinet level leadership since the formation of the coalition government. We have repeatedly been disappointed by lack of activity, as the early side-tracking of the Childhood and Families Taskforce showed. Formal responsibility for families still belongs to the Department of Education at junior ministerial level where former ministers from both the coalition parties have raised the issue that concerns us. For example, Tim Loughton MP, a Conservative, told the Education select committee that, due to what he called the “bulldozer that was the schools reform programme”, “there has been some neglect of children and families”; and, worse, “My great concern is that the children and families agenda has been greatly downgraded since the reshuffle.” The problem here is, as we predicted, that something as cross-cutting as family policy can only be dealt with at the highest cross-governmental level. While there has been merit in refocusing the former DCFS on its original role as the Department for Education, losing Family from any Cabinet minister’s primary responsibility is a strange act, given the Conservative manifesto pledge to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe.
RF also welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech after the 2011 August riots that “from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.” But properly co-ordinated action is also needed and that, so far, has been sadly lacking.