Warning to Blair over 'ineffective' policy on families

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Indy Politics

Government policy on the family is incoherent, ineffective and will not help improve the lives of the majority of familiesin Britain, a report from the Childcare Commission says.

The new body, chaired by Harriet Harman, the former social security secretary, was set up to advise the Government on how to create stronger families. It has found that although the Government has produced more policies on the family than any previous one, a lack of overall responsibility has led to culture clashes between government departments, hindering progress.

The Government has made the task of improving family life one of its key pledges and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, promised in 1997 that "every area of this Government's policy will be scrutinised to see how it affects family life".

But Ms Harman said the Government would not be able to deliver its promises. "There are too many departmental fingers in the pie, but no clear lead, no effective co-ordination and culture clashes between different departments," she said. "It can't go on like this. Government policy on the family is incoherent and ineffective."

The commission is holding a seminar at the National Family and Parenting Institute in June to discuss its first report. It is recommending a separate ministerial department of "work and family" to assume overall responsibility.

The commission's concerns are echoed in a report on family change in Britain, published today by the Family Policy Studies Centre (FPSC), an independent research organisation. "Despite the Prime Minister's promise, it is not clear how this could be done," it says. "In the UK, no one government department has overall responsibility for the family or family policy. Instead, a number of departments carry some responsibility, which indirectly or directly affects family life."

The report shows that there have been unprecedented changes in family life, with annual marriage rates at their lowest levels since records began 160 years ago. One in two marriages now end in divorce and 28 per cent of children experience the divorce of their parents before they reach 16.

Britain has 16.3 million families, but family breakdown now costs the state over £5bn a year. A rise in single person households, with 6.5 million people living on their own, is three times greater than 40 years ago.

"Family life in Britain is undergoing unprecedented change. Families are becoming smaller, fewer people are marrying and an increasing number of children are being born outside marriage. At the same time, marriage and partnerships are much more fragile than they were and more people are living on their own," said Ceridwen Roberts, director of FPSC.

"To date, the focus has been on the effect these changes will have on children. But the impact right across the life cycle, including on the growing numbers of older people, must be fully taken on board."