From the editor's desk
21 August 2014
Promises don't put food on the table
The Prime Minister’s promise that in future all government policies would be scrutinised for their effects on family life would deserve three hearty cheers if this was the start of his administration. But coming almost at the end, it will strike many people as a little hollow. Indeed, he sounded more like a leader of the Opposition when he said, after raising his principal areas of concern, “We can’t go on having Government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family”, which implies that they have been doing just that. Where has he been, these last four and a half years? Part of the answer is that he has been busy making similar speeches. Three years ago he said he wanted 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,” he declared in August 2011.
Being reminded of previous promises as yet unfulfilled is of course a professional hazard for all politicians. And at least one cheer is deserved for his announcement of increased financial support for relationship counselling – which used to be called marriage guidance – which benefits the Catholic agency Marriage Care as well as the more secular Relate; and another for the expansion of the programme for “troubled families”. But those who work in this field are bound to point out that many services and facilities built up over the years to shore up families that were not able to cope, for whatever reason, have been cut back or closed down completely as a result of government cuts.
There is a much larger issue even than this. Most families in Britain are poorer than they were four years ago and are becoming poorer still. Poverty lies at the heart of the immense stresses and strains suffered by many modern British families. Although inflation is low, incomes are rising even more slowly so in real terms they are continuing to fall. This may be inconvenient and worrying for families on average incomes, but for the lowest quarter of the population in income terms, it can be catastrophic. Withdrawal of what the Government called the “spare-room subsidy” from housing benefit, more commonly known as the bedroom tax, has taken a sizeable slice of income from families already not far above the breadline. Because of the housing shortage, especially in the South-East, rents are rising, as are house prices, as is homelessness; commuter fares are about to shoot up again. The tightening of sanctions on benefit claimants has brought back hunger to the families of Britain for the first time since the Second World War. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking for yet another savage round of cuts to the welfare budget.
So it is above all to government economic policy that Mr Cameron needs to apply his test that all decisions need first to be assessed for their effect on family life. If that really were to happen, the Government would have to admit that it has been making things worse for families, not better. As Mr Cameron himself remarked, “We can’t go on like this … ”
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