Gay and ethnic minority couples given £5m boost

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Homosexual and other unmarried couples are to benefit from a £5m government scheme that is intended to support family life, particularly in the case of minority groups that have previously been overlooked.

The Government said in plans published yesterday that it wanted to help a wider range of organisations that counsel couples.

Rosie Winterton, a minister at the Lord Chancellor's Department, said in a new guide accompanying the revised grant programme that family life was the "foundation on which our communities, our society and our country are built".

Ms Winterton said the new scheme, which has been given an extra £1.8m since it was first introduced, would help organisations that have not previously received funding, "particularly those that exist to help commonly excluded minority groups".

She added: "We recognise the importance of supporting the adult couple, with benefit to the couple itself, as well as any children they may have."

It was central to the Government's "vision of a modern and decent country" that strong and stable relationships benefit all in society, she said.

The increased funding has been partly introduced in response to a decision by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to shelve plans to introduce no-fault divorces earlier in the year. In this way the emphasis in government policy has switched from making it easier for married couples to divorce to helping all couples, married and unmarried, to stay together.

The move follows recommendations by the Advisory Group on Marriage and Relationship Support, which was set up by Lord Irvine to draw up a strategy on how the increased resources should be allocated.

The Lord Chancellor has overall responsibility for the family justice system and, since 1995, responsibility for policy development and funding for marriage and relationship support.

The Government hopes the scheme will attract applications for the grants from groups counselling couples from ethnic minority communities.

Ms Winterton said: "The key role of the voluntary sector in providing support services to the adult couple is well recognised, but to date government funding in this area has only been available to a relatively small number of organisations. With increased funding, the Lord Chancellor's Department can now be more proactive and use funding in different ways."