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Family-friendly policies needed for 21st century

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The following article was published in the March 2005 issue of Network - quarterly magazine of USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers).

Children and families have moved rapidly up the political agenda during Labour’s first two terms. The most ambitious sign being the pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020 - since 1999 over 700,000 children have been lifted out of poverty.

Other measures include the appointment of the first Children's Minister, the commitment of a larger share of public expenditure to children's services, and the recognition that 'investing early' is crucial to any meaningful anti-poverty plan.

We know research from US programmes show that for every dollar invested in early years provision, $7 is saved in lower crime, better jobs, and higher educational outcomes. Social mobility in Scandinavia is higher in comparison to Britain because for decades these countries have enjoyed universal day-care for pre-school and school-age children.

If parents want to work, the provision of childcare matters - but a child-friendly society would also need 'parent-friendly' workplaces. There is evidence to show that family-friendly companies are more productive and economically successful. Finland has achieved the enviable goal of becoming one of the most productive economies in the European Union (EU), with high levels of female participation in the workforce and the EU's highest birth rates, through a widespread consensus in support for families.

The time is ripe for a progressive child-centred family policy that acknowledges how we live today, but strengthens positive enduring values. The challenge for government in the twenty-first century is to find ways to stabilise families in an era of globalisation, and to enhance child-rearing capacity, without imposing critical burdens on taxpayers and the state.

Families are the foundation of civil society, where we first learn moral values. They engender the trust and relationship skills that enable individuals to co-operate, the glue that binds society together. But at the same time, relationships break down at a rapid rate and more and more children are growing up in disrupted families. If there was ever a time when families needed strong social support, it is now.

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