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A Manifesto to Strengthen Families - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:13 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Suri Lord Suri Conservative 5:13 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to speak in this important debate. As a Conservative, I have always considered the family to be the building block of society. My deceased friend the former Prime Minister who sat in this place had it right when she said referred to there being no such thing as society, only people and their families. We owe it to subsequent generations to keep the twin pillars of family life secure, so that we may inherit resilient communities.

All too often, in this House and the other place, we can lose sight of what holds this country together. We focus on policies that may make sense individually, but not the holistic sum of what we have passed. I remember some years ago the former right honourable Member for Witney saying that all policies would be vetted before they were announced. This vetting was to include a robust breakdown of the effect on families. Sadly, I never saw much evidence of that protocol being continued or respected, and it appears to have died a death in the Cabinet Office.

That is not to say that the Government are not aware of the problem. I supported the marriage tax allowance when it first came before us, but the depth of the policy has been lacking. Rarely do I cite the serving right honourable Member for Doncaster North, but he was right when he said that departments shape priorities and priorities shape outcomes. I understand the current pressure on government jobs, with all the new departments, and that it is an inopportune time when so many big events are coming down the track. But there is ample precedent for additional responsibilities being attached to Ministers, as this manifesto recommends.

Portsmouth received a Minister responsible for its well-being, following job cuts as navy shipbuilding moved to Scotland. This model worked well because the needs of the city cut across many departments, even if the Minister was not always of Cabinet rank. The Minister for Women and Equalities has always been of Cabinet rank, including when the current Prime Minister held it. Ministers can champion a cause in Cabinet and bring the cross-departmental focus that these policies need. In justifying the creation of a Minister for Women, the then Government argued that the lesser role of women held growth back and that there was a pressing need to address the lack of equality across systems in the public and private sector. All that holds true for the shocking state of family breakdown in our country today.

I feel that more hard facts need to be brought to bear on this debate. The most compelling statistic in all this is that, of all the parents who are still together when their children reach the age of 15, 93% are married. Children from broken homes are 2.5 times more likely to be in long-term poverty, and 44% of children in lone-parent families live in relative poverty—nearly twice the figure for children in two-parent families. If we do not support the family and marriage, we are condemning youngsters to a life more likely to be spent in poverty. The Government’s own statistics show that only 1.6p is spent for every £100 of social harm that is caused by family breakdown. More needs to be done to tackle the associated price tag of £47 billion a year. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Farmer and his assistant for doing the important work of collecting the facts and making the case in his manifesto.