Bottomley demands support for the family: Minister rejects Tory right's view

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Indy Politics
AN IMPASSIONED defence of the family and its need for support from the 'wider community' was launched last night by the Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley, in an attempt to reclaim the high ground for one-

nation Conservatism.

Her lecture will be seen as seeking at once to pre-empt the social agenda set by Tony Blair, favourite to assume the Labour leadership, and to distance the Cabinet from the Tory right's complaints about the breakdown of the traditional family.

Mrs Bottomley, giving a lecture to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the magazine Community Care, said people were 'too ready to react to the inadequacies of some aspects of modern family life, too rarely highlighting the achievements'. She added: 'We need to celebrate the strength of families as well as facing the weaknesses.'

And in tones which contrasted sharply with Baroness Thatcher's remark that 'there is no such thing as society' - a statement Mr Blair explicitly attacked in his speech to a conference on family breakdown last Tuesday - Mrs Bottomley declared: 'Families need friends.'

She added that families needed 'encouragement, advice and support to enable them to function effectively'.

But while acknowledging that local and central government had an important role in providing such help, she laid heavy emphasis on the vital role of the voluntary sector - saying: 'There was a time when many social service departments tended to exclude voluntary effort when organisations providing it could more usefully have been seen as partners.'

Mrs Bottomley, whose lecture was her first full statement on the subject since being given ministerial responsibility for the family in March, said there was now a greater willingness 'to forge alliances with and for families, providing those natural networks of care which other factors may have weakened'.

She said it was essential that support for families was organised and available at a 'very local level'.

At the same time, she implicitly rejected attacks on single parenthood from the Tory right. While saying that 'a married two-parent family is the ideal that most people would choose for their children', she added: 'Most parents alone - many of whom did not choose to be lone parents - provide good care for their child or children.'

And Mrs Bottomley defended women who went out to work, saying: 'Some people distrust these developments. They refer to the 'latch-key kid' argument. But do we really want to retreat to the days when many women were economically oppressed into unhappy relationships?'