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A Manifesto to Strengthen Families - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:17 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 5:17 pm, 2nd November 2017

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for the opportunity to talk about another magic bullet. This time it is the family but the magic bullet could have been education, or what I have been talking about since the moment I stepped into this House, which is prevention. There is a choice of magic bullets.

In 1991, I appointed myself the father of hundreds if not thousands of lost human beings, especially in the United Kingdom but then in Africa, North America and South America, and then into Asia. The most important thing, I had realised, was that the most disfranchised people who I met lacked a mum and dad, or a set of brothers or sisters. It was all the kind of things that we take for family life. So I tried to turn the Big Issue—I have to declare an interest as I am still involved in it—into a kind of loose association where people could lean on and learn from each other, and get that sense of belonging. If you can get that sense of belonging in the very early stages of your life, then in many senses you can overcome the vicissitudes.

I was unfortunately born into a family that did not really know how to act as a family. My father would beat my mother and we would often be without food and all that, largely because 42% or, let us argue, 45% of the wages disappeared into the hands of Mr Arthur Guinness on a Saturday night. When I learned to stand on my own two feet, I learned to become a family man through the prison system. I learned to make up for the things that had gone wrong in those early days because there were people who acted like mum and dad in the Catholic orphanage, the prisons and the reformatories that I was in. Let us not give up on the idea that we can all be pastoral, that we can all look to our churches and our institutions to try to iron out the difficulties that happen. I suggest we broaden the idea of the family so that we are not just talking about mum and dad and the early stages in life.

Let us also not forget that the poor have not got a monopoly on broken families. When I was a boy, if you were a member of a poor class you stuck together. It was the middle and upper classes and the aristocracy who were trading families, moving on and doing all those sorts of things. What has happened to people in poverty is that the whole system of society is breaking up with the growth of consumerism. Let us try to turn the family into a magic bullet, but I would also like the magic bullet to be prevention. If prevention was at the centre of the work we do, we could dismantle poverty and all those pressures that bear upon the lives of the poor.