Politicians are often reluctant to acknowledge the devastating impact of family breakdown, for fear of sounding judgemental.
Yet there is no arguing with statistics – family breakdown costs £46 billion a year in the UK and it is already more likely that a 15-year-old will own a smartphone than live with their father.
Family instability is particularly prevalent in deprived communities – by the time they are five, almost half of all children in low-income neighbourhoods are not living with both their parents – seven times the number of those in high-income households.
To help address the problem, we proposed a new vision for Sure Start Children’s Centres to become ‘Family Hubs’ in the community, co-ordinating vital services for families particularly in those areas where help is desperately needed with stability a key goal.
We are pleased that the Labour party has backed this radical model, which incorporates family support into childcare.
In a speech to the House of Lords, Shadow Education Minister, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, pledged to adopt the plan which we outlined in our report earlier this year, Fully Committed?
Under our proposals, Sure Start Family Hubs would be the ‘go to’ place for any parent to access services or information about all family-related matters including antenatal and postnatal services, information on childcare, employment and debt advice and relationship support.
Birth registration would also take place in Family Hubs rather than in registry offices.
Labour – which for too long has been in no man’s land on the issue of family breakdown – also plans to include in its manifesto a scheme to waive marriage fees.
This is all encouraging and hopefully the party is finally starting to recognise the repercussions of family breakdown, but it must be held to its words as the election machine rolls out.
Labour must also see family-related policies as more than simply a cost cutting exercise. In her speech, Baroness Jones spoke of being able to ‘maximise the use of buildings when money is tight’ through the Family Hubs model.
The importance of linking Children’s Centres with family services lies in helping to tackle the root causes of poverty, and supporting disadvantaged communities – it’s not just a convenient way of saving money.
But what of the Conservative party? Their uptake of our groundbreaking recommendations to introduce a tax allowance for married couples and to subject all policies to a family test is welcome.
Yet in supporting Family Hubs, it is Labour that has fired the starting gun on pledging to reverse family breakdown ahead of the election. Will the Tories match their ambitions?