frontline vol. 2 issue 4.
Cameron family values
Catriona Grant examines David Cameron's policy of rewarding married parents with tax breaks, and why this is a short-sighted response to a difficult social problem that can only be addressed by fundamental changes in society.
The Tories led by David Cameron are concerned about violence amongst young people and the breakdown of society. Their recently announced flagship policy centred around preserving married life by giving tax benefits to married couples. They argue that by preserving married life they could prevent the "breakdown in society", a notion that I believe is fundamentally flawed. There is almost constant discussion about the "breakdown" of society. More and more we hear of teenage shootings and stabbings, gang warfare, anti social behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse within the family and the tragedy of people's individual lives. The Family
But what of this "breakdown" and violence? Can the Tories save us from it? I think not, as they are dislocated from the realities of working class life today they can't make Britain into a land of the middle class, no matter how hard they try. Considering the Thatcher years contributed to the savaging of communities, it seems inconceivably arrogant of them to believe they have the solution to the very problems they played a large role in creating.
The Tories point out that children of lone parents and children of cohabitating couples are more likely to live in poverty, to be registered "at risk" and be involved in committing criminal offences. The Tories are outraged at the decreasing numbers of married people. In 2007, one in every two children are born to unmarried parents, while in 1980 the figure was one in eight. Today half of all cohabiting parents split before a child's 5th birth. There are now 2.3 million children living with lone parents. Many children living with one parent (90% of lone parents are women) will have access and support from their other parent, but considering females are 40% worse off after separation and male parents are only 2% worse off, the burden of child care and dealing with poverty is falling on mothers: a statistic that needs to be acknowledged.
The Tories fail to mention the issue of domestic abuse. Scottish Women's Aid believe that at any one time 100,000 children in Scotland are affected by domestic abuse that being they are either living in a household where a parent is being abused, or in a household where their parent has separated from an abuser. In the past, women had no choice but to stay with their husbands when they abused them and/or their children. Society's judgement of children born outside of marriage also resulted in ill considered and rushed betrothals between individuals who otherwise may never have considered such a long- term commitment.
Before the welfare state, women were absolutely dependent on being married if they were to have children, with no other option than the traditional male breadwinner/housewife scenario. The idea that in the past family life was bliss is far from the truth. A successful marriage is without doubt an advantageous situation for both parties involved, but the mere signing of a legal document can never been seen as a panacea for all of societies ills.
The Tories focus on an archaic institution is misguided and pulling focus away from the real issues of relevance. Why do the majority of lone parents live in poverty? Why do they live in poor housing? Why are their children not achieving their potential? Why are some children so emotionally damaged they can hardly participate in society?
There needs to be a debate and discussion about poverty and lone parents rather than enticing women to catch a husband on the hope of getting an extra 20 a week. Supporting lone parents into work, education and training, offering childcare that meets the needs of the parent and the child and a life balance between work and family are all needed. But we also need core services that address domestic abuse and offer support to women experiencing violence and abuse and their children and that support has to continue until they no longer need it. There are also issues concerning what needs to be done when families break down and parents can't look after their children or struggle to do it well. Many people blame the parents, but blaming parents who are struggling is not constructive. The bond most parents have to their children is profound, and when a parent is not taking care of their child, there must be something very, very wrong with their own emotional life. Threatening struggling parents with evictions, deductions of benefits, fines for the children's behaviour and parenting orders cannot and will not work. It does not address the emotional problems of the parents or the children. Many of the adults who are not parenting the way we would like them to are adults who may themselves been traumatised as children; parenting orders are simply not useful for this group of people. Parenting classes can, however, be useful for those who lack some basic skills, but still retain that fundamental emotional stability. How do socialists discuss this, what are the demands socialists need to raise? Resources are needed to support families in trouble but also to support those that have broken down due to domestic abuse, violence, substance dependence, gambling and mental health problems.
What are the core services we need to argue for in regards to families that are struggling, and for children and young people who do not emotionally cope? And where does that discussion come from? Would smaller class sizes, more sports centres and free school meals address the more complicated issues that children face? Socialists need to talk about the abuse and neglect of children and the emotional attachment and stability children need - As socialists what do we have to say about this? In our manifesto we call for many services but rarely call for core services that are needed to address violence amongst children and young people and the services for children and young people who can't live with their parents. There are times when there is no biological parent, or the biological parent is unable to meet the needs of their child. It is then that society must become a corporate parent, and the problem is that the corporate parent is failing profoundly, so these children have no safety net. There is a dearth of foster placements for children, kinship carers are hardly supported by local authorities and socialists have little to stay about this.
Take the debate around ASBOs and "neds" in the last Scottish Parliament. There was a fundamental lack of understanding by the parliamentarians who decide legislation and funding for services to these young people and families. Rosie Kane, the then SSP Glasgow MSP was scoffed at when raising the "needs" of children and young people who were getting into offending and were being violent she was called the "Minister for Neds" and laughed at for her "hug a Ned" approach by the parliament and the media. Rosie tried to raise the fact that there was a correlation between child abuse and young people's offending; funding was given to ASBOs and potential parenting orders whilst 30% of phone calls to Child Line went unanswered due to lack of funding. The majority of children and young people would immediately benefit from a better education experience smaller class sizes would make a difference, more community centres, and access to healthy free school meals. All parents need to be raised out of poverty and for the majority of families social reforms and more community resources would address the majority of social and economic problems they face. Yet some young people are still left with no organisations or individuals to turn to and are left in a state of emotional devastation. There is very little provision to cater for more challenging young people and children, particularly those with "emotional behavioural problems". These children are disturbed and distressed and not good at doing activities alone, and need intensive support and care. There is a chronic underestimation of the importance of human relationships in these children's lives socialists need to understand this too when arguing for resources. The resources these children and young people need are expensive and few and far between. What is needed across Scotland, and across the UK, is the amalgamation of services for young people where children and young people can access them. There needs to be services and centres with experienced and qualified staff, mixed with youth workers, that remain open from morning to evening so that a young person can get up and have somewhere to go that will accept them - whether they need to be taken to school, get treatment for a health problem or need a healthy tasty meal.
For many children there is no safety net that meets their needs. For many children registered "at risk" or under supervision of the Children's (Scotland) Act 1995 their "unmet needs" are recorded, but not addressed. Their parent's poverty is accepted, yet their experience of violence or abuse is ignored and their emotional problems are unaddressed. But because children and young people who have "unmet needs" don't vote, they are disregarded and nobody meets their needs or really cares about them. Who is going to stand up for them and be their voice? When hurt children and young people use violence as a weapon against society and others and become very disengaged, what can look like lack of responsibility and disrespect is actually a disengagement from society and a rejection of the rules of society. Look at it from their perspective: civil society is never there when they need it and this compounds their sense of being a lone soldier on the street or part of a gang where they feel included and wanted. The rules of class society state that those who live in poverty get a raw deal. The rules of class society state that these children and young people must respect others when no one respects or cares about them.
One problem with the British way of thinking about these children is that, very early on in their lives, society places a moral responsibility for the control of behaviour on the child and absolves itself of parenting tasks. We have no collective responsibility for children, if parents can't cope or find themselves overwhelmed by the parenting task they are blamed, regardless of their poverty or their poor health, and they alone are deemed responsible. It is also normally the female lone parent who is held responsible, being the only visible parent in their child's life.
Children are often seen to be in control of their own behaviour and perceived as moral agents and there is a notion that they have free choice. However the question needs to be asked as to why are the majority of children "at risk", on supervision, in danger of getting an ASBO - poor, or have poor health, have experienced violence or abuse, have poor education experiences and have failing relationships with their parents? So from society's perspective, they choose to behave without morals and are therefore flawed - and because they are flawed, they are not to be liked or helped and deserve their poverty and inequality. But in order for children to make choices about their lives they need to be emotionally and physically healthy, which many children are not. As socialists we need to ask the questions not how we would like a socialist society to be but what are the demands we raise today and what society do we want to live in today. If we can't we will only have glib solutions no better or worse that those offered by New Labour and the Tories.