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July 3, 2008 / C H Thompson

Political influences on social policy

All social policies are implemented by governments. Governments are elected to run the country by the electorate who choose the political party they want to run the country. The two most prominent political parties in the UK are the Conservative and Labour parties. When in power governments create policies which affect the well-being of its citizens. Policies which have a clear effect on our well being are known as social policies.

Social polices are those which influence social security, health, education, social care etc. For example a recent educational social policy is the raising of the school leaving age to 18. An example of a social policy affecting the family is the lowering of working families tax credit thresholds.

So let’s look at Conservative social policies:

Conservative policies has had a history of being very supportive of the traditional nuclear family. Indeed the Conservatives were the party which introduced New Right thinking into UK politics in the 1980s.

In the 1990s the Conservative Party under John Major (1990-1997) showed a very keen preference for the married, two-parent nuclear family which was evident in his Back-to-Basics campaign.

His campaign brought in two key pieces of legislation. The Child Support Agency and the Family Law Act of 1996

  1. Identify the key principles of the above two legislative changes

The main aim of the CSA was to make absent fathers pay to support their children even after a relationship had failed. By making absent fathers pay the financial burden on the state would be reduced as the money received from fathers would reduce the state’s payment to lone mothers.

The Family Law Act introduced a one year waiting period before a couple could divorce with the idea that over this time period a marriage could be saved. However the act was never introduced as judges saw it as unworkable.

  1. So how do Conservative policies shape the family? If you read this BBC article it explains David Cameron’s approach to social policy prior to his election in 2010

So now let’s take a look at Labour social policies:

New Labour under Tony Blair came to power in 1997 and sought to adopt a more relaxed approach to the family than the Conservatives. Though they didn’t seek a Back-to-Basics policy like the Conservatives, they tended to be keener in recognising family diversity. This was evident in their Supporting Families (1998) consultation paper which centred around supporting families rather then telling people what their family should look like. This approach recognised family diversity.

This social policy was one of support for all families not matter what their form. The Labour Government policy was one of NOT interfering in family life and recognises that many lone parents and unmarried couples raise children successfully. But at the same time New Labour stressed that ‘marriage is still the surest foundation for raising children’.

The above describes Labour rhetoric but what were their actual social policies for the family. It’s important to note that Labour have been in power since 1997.

What do imagine Labour policies were towards families? It’s important to recognise that historically Labour values were VERY different to Conservative policies but this no longer seems the case.

In 2001 Labour introduced its New Deal programme. This scheme is designed to help people into work. One area of the New Deal programme was particularly aimed at lone parents (which tends to be women). Since April 01 all mothers have to attend an annual interview about job opportunities. This operates in conjunction with Working Family Tax Credits, which top-up low wages.

They also created Sure Start programmes which deliver support for low-income families with young children. And as recently as October 08 they introduced the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission to supersede the CSA. Read more on this important change here

As you can see Labour family policies focus on parental responsibility to find work. Yet Labour do argue Child Benefit has increased 26% in real terms between 1997-2001 however the number of children living in poor families has increased to 3.8m in 2007.

  1. So how do Labour policies shape the family?

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