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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer and all his 65 Conservative supporters from both Houses on his excellent paper, A Manifesto to Strengthen Families. It has been beautifully produced and is easy to read. It contains 18 policies to support the Government in their aim to strengthen families as part of their wider ambition for social reform.
As we have heard, family breakdown is estimated to cost almost £50 billion a year. That is a huge amount, but the manifesto points out that it is a fraction of the overall cost as fractured families are likely to be dependent on the state. Strengthening families has to be one of the most important social justice priorities of our times. The long-term, indeed probably lifetime, effect of fractured families is so sad. It is heart-breaking to contemplate how frequently marriages that were celebrated with joy and happiness collapse in a morass of recrimination, unhappiness and even hatred. Of course there are massive support systems that can be called into play, including mediation, help from other family members, support from social workers, the Church and many others.
The 18 policy points in this manifesto are set out in practical language that is free of jargon. This makes it a valuable contribution to our thinking and examination of what can be done to tackle this seemingly intractable situation. The first policy points out that supporting families cuts across every part of government and recommends that a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for families should be appointed, along with the suggestion to establish a cross-cutting body similar to the Government Equalities Office that is based in the Department for Education to enable the co-ordination of family policies. In addition, the recommendation proposes that all departmental business in every area of government should have specific targets and produce impact assessments in relation to the development of bespoke family policies.
The document contains a quite amazing amount of information, suggestions and downright common sense and it is impossible to find fault with it. It would also be presumptuous of me to attempt to do so, as I almost certainly have less experience of families than almost anyone else in the Chamber. What experience I have is decades out of touch, but from remembering my personal experience, the glaring omission in the manifesto is a recommendation for a specific policy to involve grandparents in the bringing up of children.
Today’s grandparents are much more in tune with children than those of the 20th century. They are more active, more travelled, healthier and more aware of what children need and value. As an aside, I am told that Beveridge made no reference to life after retirement from work. He would be so surprised to realise that today’s 60 year-olds can be so fit—marathon runners—and willing and able to be involved with their offspring’s offspring.
Research from the University of Oxford has shown that grandparents play a vital role in children’s well-being, and the results have informed UK family policy. Professor Ann Buchanan’s study of more than 1,500 children demonstrated that those with a higher level of grandparental involvement had fewer emotional and behavioural problems. However, there is one big problem: grandparents have no legal right to see their grandchildren. Professor Buchanan has addressed all parliamentary parties to raise awareness of how grandparents contribute positively to grandchildren’s well-being. I am told the Government have promised a review on family law to look at how best to provide greater access rights for grandparents. I wish the Minister well in his new position and ask him when the review is likely to be published? If it is still in the embryonic stage, will he suggest that it may be a good idea to widen the terms of reference beyond the ghastly situation now pertaining, whereby access can be hopelessly difficult in some cases?