Nadhim Zahawi is MP for Stratford on Avon and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
A One Nation government appeals to our best principles. It is us aiming for social unity. It is us aiming to give everyone the chance to do well. We see the pervasive social problems that deny many that opportunity and make it our mission to break down those walls.
This agenda has just been thrust to the heart of Downing Street. Since 2010, the Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Montgomerie, has been the factory of policies snapped up by the government. These have included ideas as diverse as Universal Credit and the Modern Slavery Act. Such is the success of the think tank that Number 10 has poached its director, Christian Guy.
I couldn’t be happier that this compassionate Conservative agenda has been propelled to the forefront.
When it comes to fixing what’s dividing Britain, the improvements we’re making to schools are key. We have to keep driving change in school management via our free schools policy and the pupil premium and change culture.
The academy system has made progress on each of these. Pouring money into failing schools does not help. Education spending more than tripled between 1997 and 2015, but it was only the schools that became academies that saw the massive change.
As an article in the Times (£) last week by Alex Massie points out, in London, where the first two of these reforms are the most deep-rooted, “poor children achieve better GCSE results than the average across England”. Before the reforms, the capital had the worst schools in the country. It’s fantastic that David Cameron has just announced his ambition that every school in the country should become an academy.
Despite this, there is still a disparity in how education is seen by different communities. This contributes to Britain still topping rankings I never want to see it top. We are world leaders in educational inequality.
David Cameron’s ambition to roll out academies across the country will help, but children only spend 15 per cent of their time in school. We need to look at how home environments affect the opportunity to make a real difference to attainment and life chances. That’s where the CSJ comes in.
According to the its Breakthrough Britain report, family breakdown is also at the heart of division in Britain. That’s why the Government has produced a string of policies to support families.
Families are the bedrock of society and we have nothing if they don’t work. Family breakdown costs £46 billion a year in the need for other expenditure. This is a huge penalty and one that was ignored for 13 years under a Labour government that refused to recognise the limitations of welfare spending.
Victims of family breakdown are more likely to be in trouble with the police, suffer drink or drug addiction, and further mental health problems. They are likely to fail academically and become teenage parents. All this perpetuates a cycle of poverty as the problems cascade through the generations. We help these people, but a truly compassionate Conservative Government tackles the causes too.
This is why, in 2011, the Prime Minister launched the Troubled Families Programme to intervene early and intensively with the most troubled families from whom the largest amount of problems emanate. The aim was to help 120,000 troubled families by getting children back into school, reducing youth crime and anti-social behaviour and getting adults on a path back to work. As over £9 billion a year is spent on these families alone, the £12,000 spent per family at exit from the programme is money well spent. Due to its success, we extended that funding to help 400,000 more families.
On top of this, we’re trying to reverse the decline of marriage and make it the cornerstone of our society. The vast majority of young people aspire to get married, but the number of marriages keeps falling. We’re recognising and backing marriage in the tax system with the transferable marriage allowance as well as boosting relationship support.
At the moment it’s set at a low level and it could be much higher. Boosting the transferable marriage allowance would send a strong signal that this was high on the government’s agenda for changing Britain for the better. Achieving this was central to Conservative plans before entering government in 2010. Now we have the first Conservative government for nearly two decades, we can go much further with this over the next five years.
If we can go a long way to repairing broken families and help others build strong ones, we can make a stronger and better off Britain.
The combination of stronger families and school reform can help narrow the educational attainment gap. Children who have parents that can help with school work, who encourage them to see it as important and give them a wide range of experiences through childhood do far better than those who do not.
According to the CSJ, academies have a role to play here too. They have argued that “Government should encourage parents to realise that helping their children to learn is as important as feeding and clothing them.” The report argues that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers exists because they often lack the individually tailored support that many other pupils take for granted.
To deliver this, a partnership is needed between schools and homes to help parents take responsibility for their children’s education. Academies are best placed to build those kinds of partnerships as they are far more parent facing than Local Educational Authorities could ever be.
Developing that kind of partnership with parents and encouraging engagement with schools can put a love of learning at the centre of disadvantaged communities. The culture of some of the poorest neighbourhoods that undervalue schooling must be defeated in order to inspire children to learn.
It is also the case that many families spend increasing amounts of time and money on supplementary educational activities, including maths, language and music lessons, to improve the quality of their children’s education.
This means that we need to ensure that disadvantaged families have access to a range of educational opportunities, improving both their educational outcomes and well-being.
When local schools are failing, more affluent parents sensibly find a better school by moving into a better catchment area or transporting their children to schools further away. Disadvantaged parents too often find their children trapped in schools which don’t improve over a long period.
The drive for higher standards that the Coalition and now the Conservative Government is pursuing can change this, but it’s just as important that failing schools have their management changed and turned round. Our policies must make sure that children are not forced to put up with prolonged educational failure.
The Conservatives can affect important social change in ways others can’t because we are not encumbered like other parties with a fear of difficult issues or an addiction to the top-down levers of the welfare state. Labour has been captured by the hard left trade unions, the most reactionary special interests in the country today. A One Nation government will make Britain a more equal country where families are more stable and education is an engine of social mobility again. The next five years are a great opportunity and we have the right ideas to seize it.