Cllr Sally-Ann Hart is a member of Rother District Council
I have just been contemplating East Sussex County Council’s consultation document regarding necessary cuts in the adult social care budget. It is well thought through and compassionate, in as far as it can be, in the circumstances. However, it is inevitable that many vulnerable local residents are going to suffer – probably in silence. I have heard that there is a hope, perhaps even an expectation, that volunteers from local communities will come forward and fill the gaps.
Jeremy Hunt recently suggested that the public and families should take more responsibility for looking after elderly neighbours and relatives. If I remember correctly, his suggestion was met with some derision.
It is clear that local authorities and the NHS can no longer afford to ‘shoulder the burden’ of looking after the elderly – or the vulnerable. However, the voluntary sector has been hard at work looking after those in most need in our society, themselves stretched to beyond capacity, on limited budgets, with limited manpower and with ever depleting funds. It is absolutely right that we, as individuals and as local communities, should be taking more responsibility for this.
But here is my nagging doubt: how can we expect individuals and local communities to take more responsibility when we, as a society, place such little value on family life and the role of the family unit?
The family is the most important unit in society – the bedrock. The family is where children should be shown and taught love, basic and moral values in human life, cultural and spiritual heritage, empathy, tolerance, sharing, as well as manners – how to use the lavatory, eat with a knife and fork, et cetera.
Aside from any religious, social or other ideology, the reality is that children, particularly at pre-school age, are vulnerable, dependant, and require physical, emotional and psychological nurture (not unlike many of the elderly and other vulnerable members of our society). This takes time, patience and commitment and is the most important job, role or career any parent has.
Decades of placing a greater value on paid employment and encouraging parents – let us be honest, mothers – back to work as soon as possible, has led to a devaluation of the family unit and, subsequently, a weakened society. One effect is the difficulty in not only finding volunteers for public service, but the diminishing number of parents taking responsibility for the upbringing of their own children, let alone looking after parents, grandparents and extended family members. It makes us less willing to give.
It is a fact that high employment benefits the economy: greater disposable incomes means greater spending on goods and services which leads to increased economic growth. Everyone out earning money is good for the economy. But this affluence comes with a high human cost; surely our lives have to be worth more than the value of money?
Socialists do not like family. Marxist socialism held (and still holds) a negative view of the traditional family unit because family is the ultimate individual ownership and freedom. Socialist liberalisation of family and family relationships has permeated western culture for decades.
The deliberate undermining of the traditional family unit and the influence of religious institutions is replaced by the increasing role and power of the state – the ideology being that an individual belongs to society, not to itself. Hence all citizens work for the good of the state and children are okay being brought up by state-funded childcare institutions, as are the elderly, infirm and disabled similarly looked after. There is extensive research regarding the long-term negative behavioural and emotional impact that long periods of time spent in nurseries has on babies and young children.
The last Labour Government worked hard to push mothers back to work, which our Government has continued to do. Many parents I speak to, particularly mothers, would love the opportunity to bring up their own children at home rather than rely on a childminder or nursery, but cannot afford to do so. If they had a choice, many would prefer to have a cash or tax equivalent of 30 hours of free childcare and would welcome such support.
For years money has been ploughed into adult social care to the extent that one could argue that we no longer know how or, sadly in many cases, why we should be caring for dependants or those in greatest need.
I am not advocating a return to the 1950s, but rather that we should develop Conservative policies that give parents a real choice and value equally the role of a working parent to that of a stay-at-home parent. After all, we do not need to destroy family unit households for equality, merely to place equal value on the roles.
As a Conservative, my fundamental belief in a small state and big individual freedom and responsibility means that I place the greatest value on the family unit, whatever its make-up. This is because I believe that strong families, who have the freedom to take responsibility for themselves, promote social responsibility, a feeling for community and a strong, compassionate and giving society.