David Cameron was prone to use the One Nation slogan often, a sign of his interest in social justice and fairness to all. One aspect of furthering it which engaged his interest was better life chances. His most comprehensive speech on the subject concluded as follows:
“So this is how I believe we can rescue a generation from poverty and extend life chances right across our country.
Backing stable families and good parenting, because we know the importance of those early years in setting children up for a good life. It’s about improving education, so those who’ve had the toughest starts have every chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.
It’s about building a country where opportunity is more equal, with stronger communities and young people who have the experiences and the networks to get out there and take on the world.
And providing high quality treatment, as we eliminate once and for all the damaging stigma that surrounds addiction and mental health.
All of this – delivering our Life Chances Strategy – it starts with that fundamental belief that people in poverty are not liabilities to be managed, each person is an asset to be realised, human potential is to be nurtured.”
So his foundation for action was making families stronger, or trying to. Were he Prime Minister now, his Government would doubtless be engaged in putting more flesh on the bones of this intention. The programme for action would have included more support for mental health provision; engaging poorer children with sports and the arts; mentoring; relationship support programmes, and education about savings.
It might also have included more support for marriage in the tax system, of which George Osborne was suspicious but which he himself always favoured. It could perhaps have taken in Andrea Leadsom’s plan for an expansion of children’s services based on the 1001 Critical Days idea – for which she was mocked by some during the Conservative leadership election, but about which she is deeply knowledgable and passionately engaged.
Cameron believes that family break-up and poor parenting drive up welfare and other bills at huge cost to the taxpayer – running into tens of billions of pounds – and that the social cost to Britain was as at least as large as the financial one. His successor as Prime Minister also believes in social justice, but her main interest lies in correcting unfair outcomes that blight the lives of woman, and of people of both sexes and different ethnicities.
The sacred texts of Maydom – her two campaign launch speeches (see here and here), and her address to this site’s conference in 2013 – have less to say about family policy: indeed, very little at all. There is no sign that her and Downing Street’s interest and imagination is gripped, as her predecessor’s was, by the wider cost of family problems to British society – or seized by the economic and moral need to address these. Will we get one?