Time and again our new prime minister has demonstrated her commitment to improving life chances and working for social justice.
She was the reforming home secretary who called time on Modern Day Slavery. And even earlier than that she was the first and only person to have “secretary of state for the family” in her title – albeit she was shadow.
When in this role she demonstrated genuine commitment to find out what worked well for families. At a time when many Conservatives struggled to find a good word to say about Children’s Centres, she visited many, and found examples of good practice which are still informing policy deliberations today.
David Cameron said more than once “families are the best poverty fighting tool we have”. Absolutely agreed. But for too long many of us as Conservatives have made impassioned speeches about improving life chances filled with approving rhetoric about the importance of strong families.
Meanwhile the epidemic of family breakdown in our country, particularly amongst the poorest and most vulnerable, continues devastatingly apace. Now is the time for action.
The government should put rocket boosters under efforts to promote stronger families, and invest accordingly. Timidity will not bring about the paradigm shift desperately needed and in Theresa May I believe we have a prime minister who will not shrink from such action.
We need big, bold measures, like a treatment tax on alcohol which will provide the money to tackle the massive drink problem blighting many children’s lives.
Our new prime minister will be familiar with the Home Office research showing more than a million children live with one or more adults with a problem with alcohol.
Any efforts to regenerate the 100 ‘worst sink estates’ in the UK, should put family and relationship support at the heart of these new developments; regeneration of these estates needs to go far beyond bricks and mortar if lives are to be transformed.
A Healthy Relationships Fund should be properly resourced to ensure that parenting, couple relationship and family support programmes are included in the master planning processes.
This will be money well spent – for every £1 invested, government research shows £11.50 of the social costs incurred as a result of family breakdown is saved. But the investment in young lives, and in improving their life chances, is unquantifiable.
New parents of the Whats-App generation now go online for support and advice.
By working with local authorities and charities, the government could develop a universally recognisable online service to act as a one stop shop providing support for families.
If we can deliver health advice online through the NHS website, there is no reason we can’t do the same to upskill parents to have the best possible relationships.
It’s also time for the Government to make a big deal of the role of dads – in particular to deliver targeted support to young men at the risk of becoming absent fathers. The government should appoint a Fatherhood Champion to bring together examples of best practice and encourage their take up across the country.
This week I am launching a report in Parliament which recommends that children’s centres in every authority be transformed into ‘Family Hubs’. The report provides tried and tested solutions, many based on great initiatives from across the country.
These are already working with families to address the challenges so many of them face as they struggle with low incomes, poor mental health, addictions, debt and broken or chaotic relationships.
We need to look afresh at the assets we already have within our Children’s Centre estate and sweat them – by expanding their community based early years help, to support parents of older children, and indeed, to support family members of all ages – 5 to 105.
Most of us, at some point, need some support for our families whether light touch or more structured – let’s normalise this by providing somewhere in every community for people to go where someone will have answers.
A score or so of local authorities are already enhancing their Children’s Centre offer by connecting their buildings with the many other organisations, including self-help and voluntary groups, which families can benefit from and forming ‘Family Hubs’.
These, for example, can learn from and integrate the successful Troubled Families work with early help to catch problems before they mushroom; they provide advice to couples as well as parents, and can even include a birth registration point so everyone can see, right from the start, what is on offer locally for them, for when they may need it in the future.
During the Welfare Reform and Work Bill we were promised measures on family stability, addiction and debt to supplement the statutory measures on education attainment and employment to drive an all out assault on poverty.
The life chances strategy that the government brings forward must include real and robust steps to boost family stability and healthy relationships so that Government really can deliver against these measures. I am confident this can happen under the determined and practical leadership of our new prime minister.
This article originally appeared in The Times Red Box.