David Cameron said in opposition that he wanted "the next Government to be the most family friendly Government we’ve ever had in this country".
Andrea Leadsom writes on this site today about her recent experience as a member of the Children and Families Bill Committee, pointing out that there was no Minister for Families to help the bill through Parliament. She writes: "The Minister for Employment and the
Minister for Children both shared the responsibility instead." What does a list of Ministers with some responsibility for families look like?
- Eric Pickles at Communities and Local Government is responsible for troubled families.
- Maria Miller at Culture, Media and Sport is Minister for Women and Equalities.
- Jeremy Browne at the Home Office is responsible for helping to counter the sexualisation of young people.
- Helen Grant at Justice is responsible for working with other government departments on violence against women and girls.
- Esther McVey at Work and Pensions is responsible for child poverty.
- Edward Timpson at Education is the Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, and is responsible, inter alia, for adoption, fostering and residential care home reform; child protection; children and young people's services, and the Office of Children's Commissioner.
- Elizabeth Truss is the Under Secretary of State for Childcare.
- Speaking of which, Nick Clegg has been taking an interest in childcare, as we know.
Some of this division of labour is inevitable, but much simply reflects a lack of clarity. For example, why do we need two separate Ministers to be responsible for issues affecting girls?
Such duplication has wider consequences. Very simply, this is a Government without a families policy – and that fact has knock-on effects, such as Downing Street's extraordinary suggestion that parents who support children at home should get less help from the tax system than those who work in the labour market. Leadsom says that although the Coalition has achieved a great deal for families, a Minister for Families is essential to end muddle and shape policy. By way of illustrating her case, she gives a small but telling example.
She wants Children’s Centres to be able to offer the registration of births within their premises, arguing that such a move would enable Children’s Centre workers to meet families who might be struggling with the pressures of parenthood. The idea may be good or bad (I think it is good), but no Minister is empowered clearly to give a verdict: instead, the idea is marooned in an inter-departmental no-man's land. The Prime Minister's ambition won't be fully realised until or unless he appoints a Minister for Families in the next reshuffle.