The Government's overarching objectives in family policy are to improve the outcomes of
family members (for example children's educational attainment,the health of family members or the income of parents) and to ensure that all families are treated fairly, which means
focusing particular attention on the most disadvantaged groups.
These have not always been the objectives of government policy. In fact, the policies of successive governments have changed significantly over the past 50 years and beyond, often in line with evolving attitudes towards family life. Chapter 1 discusses the changing role of government in relation to the family and sets out the current Government's rationale for
intervention in this policy area.
Significant progress has been made towards the goals of improved outcomes and equity over the course of the past decade. For example, there are now just 47 secondary schools where fewer than one in four pupils gains five or more good GCSEs compared with 616 in 1997; £21 billion has been invested in childcare and early years services since 1997; and
the New Deals programmes have helped 1.7 million people into work since 1998.
Drawing on a series of ministerial seminars, citizens' deliberative forums and other pieces of work carried out as part of the Government's Policy Reviews, this paper argues that, over the course of the next 10 years, more should be done to help achieve the Government's two overarching objectives of improving outcomes and ensuring greater equity.
Specifically, the Government should do more to:
- support families to exercise their rights to manage their own affairs while living
up to the responsibilities they have (for example as parents). This means increasingly focusing on improving the life chances of family members (addressing such issues as poor
educational attainment and a culture of low aspirations) and ensuring that information and support on relationships and parenting are transparent and accessible to all parents, including non-resident parents. Supporting families should also go hand in hand with greater clarity for parents about their rights and responsibilities. This should be the case from the outset of becoming a parent, and the Government should therefore require both parents' names to be registered following the birth of a child. These policies are
discussed at greater length in Chapter 2;
- enable work-family life balance, by helping people move from welfare into
work, improving childcare and supporting family commitments. Measures on these three themes in Chapter 3 of this paper include learning lessons from pilot schemes to extend free childcare and education provision to those up to two years old; keeping under review the
case for a gradual extension of the right to request flexible working for parents
with older children (six and over); and investigating the reasons for the marked
gender divide in requests for and granting of flexible working. Given the difficulties
that some businesses may face in granting more flexible working and
managing paternity and maternity leave, the Government should also continue to look for ways to support businesses in implementing flexible working, and in particular should identify ways in which it can assist small and medium-sized enterprises in this area; and
- address the hardest to reach families, by tackling the causes and consequences
of deep-seated social exclusion which can inflict huge costs on individuals, families,
the economy and society. Specifically, the Government should continue developing
better ways of identifying the most at-risk families (including those susceptible
to family breakdown). Once identified, these families can be offered intensive,
tailored support, for example through health-led programmes based on the
successful Nurse-Family Partnerships. The Government should ensure that public service providers are properly coordinated. One approach is to ensure that individual professionals or service providers are accountable for the well-being of families as a whole. These issues are discussed in Chapter 4 of this paper.
The success of families is first and foremost down to the commitments and
behaviour of the individuals within them. But the Government does have a role to
play in ensuring that citizens are given the opportunity to secure the best outcomes
for their families and in improving equity. This paper sets out the Government's
vision of how this can be achieved over the decade to come.
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