Redwood attacked for 'bullying' single mothers: Labour criticises lack of housing policy to preserve families

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The Independent Online
JOHN REDWOOD, the Thatcherite cabinet member who delivered a weekend attack on the problem posed by single-parent families, was condemned for his 'bully boy tactics' yesterday by Donald Dewar, Labour's social security


The Secretary of State for Wales went beyond government policy when suggesting that before benefits were paid, absent fathers should not only be pursued for a financial contribution - but also for 'a fuller contribution, by offering the normal love and support that fathers have offered down the ages to their family'.

One senior Conservative said last night that Mr Redwood's 'ideologically driven brainwave' supported his view that the minister was 'from another planet'.

Mr Dewar said: 'This is a combination of Victorian morality and bully boy tactics. It is totally impractical and will just be laughed at by colleagues with more practical experience of such matters.'

Mr Redwood, MP for Wokingham, in Berkshire, was minister for local government before he went into the Cabinet in the May shuffle.

Meanwhile, David Blunkett, the Labour spokesman on health, issued a carefully worded statement criticising the Government for failing to produce a comprehensive housing policy for the family, but also making it clear ministers were right to target the issue of single parents.

'We need less rhetoric designed to inflame public opinion and real action to reinforce personal responsibilities.

'That means the acceptance by fathers of their obligations towards their children and positive housing policies which do not encourage the belief that the only way to a home is having a baby.

'A comprehensive family policy is long overdue, but the Government has moved over the last 14 years in exactly the opposite direction. They have accelerated the disintegration of the family and a sense of community and responsibility which are crucial to avoiding dependence on the state and reliance on others.' Mr Blunkett said remarks by Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health, attacking women who campaign for the right to single parenthood, were 'particularly unfortunate'.

Behind Mr Blunkett's statement lies a growing concern in Labour ranks that the party should stay in tune with public opinion. Many council tenants on estates in Labour strongholds are angry at queue-jumping by mothers deserted by boyfriends or husbands.

One leading source said the party should not be seen as 'defending the indefensible'.

Meanwhile, a social security minister has made clear that the Child Support Agency will be reluctant to pursue cases to court for maintenance payments where there may have been more than one lover, and doubt exists over


'Depending on the information available, discreet inquiries to an individual who is thought to be the absent parent will be made before deciding upon the way forward,' said Alistair Burt, Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, in a letter to Harry Cohen, a Labour backbench MP.

Mr Burt said the CSA would not disclose to one possible father the possibility that the woman had another lover. That is banned under section 50 of the Child Support Act, making it a criminal offence to disclose information. If a woman is unable to tell which lover was the father, she will not have broken the Act.

Mr Burt said: 'Where there is more than one person who might be the child's parent, she will be asked for such information as she is able to give and this will be considered before making any approach to an alleged parent.'

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