The last Labour government oversaw a major expansion of support for families, with new investment in childcare, tax credits, maternity leave and children’s centres. Despite this investment, the left still struggles to demonstrate its ‘pro-family’ credentials and to affirm its backing for parents and committed family relationships.
Too often, this leaves us conceding important political territory, allowing the right to claim it understands families best. In a major new report, The Condition of Britain, IPPR argues that we need to show we back parents who are working hard to raise their children – including unequivocally supporting committed relationships.
For most of us, family is what we care about most, the embodiment of our aspirations and obligations. Despite the rising number of children born outside wedlock, we still aspire to marry or to form strong, stable relationships in which to raise our children. When we make that commitment to each other, we expect our friends and family, wider society and the state to back us. Yet many on the left struggle to articulate their support for commitment.
Part of the problem is a squeamishness about talking up the importance of stable relationships for fear of accusations of moralising or interfering in private lives. Politicians worry that they will be reproached for doing down lone parents or those whose relationships have broken down. A sharper concern is that they will be criticised for double standards because of failings in their own personal lives.
The result is a determination to remain resolutely neutral on the question of family structure and relationships. Without question, we must support families in all their diversity and the state should not privilege particular kinds of relationships or discriminate against those not in a relationship. But affirming support for commitment does not mean telling others how to live or looking down on those who are not in a relationship.