Posted by: Jules Birch15/08/2011
David Cameron’s idea of a family test for all domestic policy is a good one. How about starting with some of his own policies?
His speech on the aftermath of the riots today sees the breakdown of the family as a key cause. ‘Families matter. I don’t doubt that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home. Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad…
…where it’s normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger.’
The prime minister continued: ‘So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start. I’ve been saying this for years, since before I was Prime Minister, since before I was leader of the Conservative Party.
So: 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 keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.’
What he means, of course, is the well-worn territory staked out in a succession of reports by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in opposition.
Cameron’s speech was a little nuanced, with an admission that ‘moral decline and bad behaviour is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society’ and references to MPs’ expenses, the banking crisis and phone hacking.
But across large sections of his party the conviction seems to be growing that everything the CSJ had to say about Broken Britain was absolutely correct and the problem is that the government has not gone far enough in general and on tax breaks for marriage in particular. ‘No time for half-measures,’ says the CSJ itself.
Influential Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie puts it most succinctly. ‘We don’t need an inquiry into the riots,’ he says at Conservative Home. ‘The Centre for Social Justice has been looking at these questions for seven years.’
He concludes: ’ An inquiry would take months, at best, and probably years. We need to seize the moment. Cameron needs to seize the moment and get on with a task that cannot be delayed.’
It’s not exactly an inquiry but Cameron’s family test does at least call for a review of policy. Remember: ‘If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.’
For starters, how about the cuts in the local housing allowance that will force people to move miles away from their extended family and social support networks? They may have already started for new claims but it’s not too late to look at the way they hurt families and stop them being together.
How about reconsidering last year’s cuts in funding for things like family intervention projects and SureStart?
How about short-term tenancies? They will reduce work incentives and undermine settled communities on our estates. There’s still one last chance to change that in the Lord’s stage of the Localism Bill.
As for trampling on the values that keep people together, how about a policy that encourages parents to kick their problem children out or face eviction for the entire family?
Above all, what about the £26,000 a year household benefit cap? There’s still chance to amend the Welfare Reform Bill and amend a policy that will ‘bring hardship to as many as 50,000 families who will have the rug pulled out from them overnight. The impact of the average projected loss for such families of £93 a week could be highly damaging, and for some families who are predicted to lose much more, it is likely to be devastating’.
That’s not me speaking. It’s not the view of a Labour-sympathising think-tank. It’s the verdict of the Centre for Social Justice in its report card on the coalition’s first year in office.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context