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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Condition of Britain: new politics of the family needed

Interim report says Britain is more family focused but not yet family friendly.

Britain needs a new politics of the family, according to the interim report of IPPR's flagship Condition of Britain project. The report argues that Britain has become more family focused during the recession but that Britain is not yet family friendly. It argues that a new politics of the family is needed from both the Left and the Right.

The project is the biggest assessment of social policy on the centre left since IPPR's 1994 Commission for Social Justice. It sets out to understand how Britain has changed over the last two decades and to shape a new agenda for renewing British society in the years ahead. It rejects the view that Britain is "broken", arguing that there is considerable resilience and strength in British society. But it accepts that social policy under Labour was based on an over-confidence about the ability of the central state to solve social problems and argues for devolving power to communities in ways that enable people to better control their own lives, rather than to be dominated by unconstrained markets or overreach by the state.

The report argues that Britain has rediscovered the importance and value of the family during the recession. But it also finds families under real strain, pointing towards the major social problems faced by Britain today:

o Many families fear for the future of their children - - half of young people who don't own their home don't expect to do so within the next decade; there are over one million NEETs; one in five teenagers with low level qualifications are neither working nor studying by the time they are 20.

o Childcare is expensive and children's centres are retreating - a part-time nursery place now costs over £100 a week, having risen by 77% over the last decade, twice as fast as general prices; more than 400 children's centres are thought to have closed since 2010 and the number offering full-day care has halved since 2008.

o Long working hours are squeezing family time - nearly half of fathers (44%) work more than 45 hours or more a week, higher than in most other European countries. A third of parents say they wish they could spend more time with their children.

o Elderly relatives often face isolation as extended families spread out - one million older people regularly feel lonely, including one in five of those in their 80s and 90s.

o Wages are lower, tax credits cut and prices are rising - average incomes have fallen by £1,200 since the recession in real terms, and half of people (52%) say they struggle to keep up with bills and loan repayments.

The report argues that a key priority should be universal childcare, advanced through community institutions such as children's centres that bring children and parents together, rather than cash benefits or tax free vouchers. The report argues that universal childcare is a policy that will make Britain better off and help families deal with the squeeze on family incomes and our rising care needs as a result of our aging population.

The report shows that universal childcare could help more than a quarter of a million parents to get back to work, improve their family finances and boost the nation's balance sheet by as much as £1.5bn. IPPR analysis shows that couple families with a single earner are four times more likely to live in poverty than couple families with dual earners and three times more likely than couple families where parents work part time.

Nick Pearce, Director at IPPR, said:

"In our research, we have consistently found the family to be the critical point at which people's hopes and fears intersect. The recession made it vital to share resources in families, while recovery has been accompanied by deep anxiety for the future, particularly for young family members starting out in life.

"As society ages, and care needs rise, questions of inter-generational support and risk sharing will dominate policy debate. A new politics of the family is taking shape. At its heart is the question of how to fund, expand and reform care of children and the elderly, neither of which is currently well served by public services or private market."

The report says there is no evidence to support the contention that "Britain is broken":

o Levels of crime and antisocial behaviour have been in decline since around the mid-1990s, and are now lower than in the early 1980s.

o The number of young people committing offences has more than halved since peaking in the mid-2000s.

o There have been big falls in reports of vandalism and graffiti and of teenagers hanging around on the street. Despite the scale of the recession, unemployment has not hit the levels seen in the 1980s and early 1990s.

o Two thirds of adults believe that people in their neighbourhood pull together to improve the local area. And half of adults say they do some form of voluntary or community work at least once a month.

Notes to Editors

IPPR's Condition of Britain interim report will be available here on Thursday: http://bit.ly/IPPR11645

The report shows that investing in better childcare could generate nearly £1.5 billion in fiscal benefits by helping 280,000 more mothers back to work:
o Increasing the employment rate of mothers with pre-school children by five percentage points would generate a fiscal gain of £700m: £300m of extra tax revenue and £500m in lower tax credit and benefit spend.
o Increasing the rate of full-time employment among working mothers with pre-school children by five percentage points would generates a further fiscal gain of £700m: £600m of extra tax revenue and £100m in less tax credit and benefit spend.

IPPR analysis shows that 1 in 5 children in single earner couple households live in poverty. This falls to 6 per cent in 1.5 earner households, and 4 per cent in dual earner households (poverty measured as earning below 60 per cent of equivalised median income, before housing costs - latest data and refers to 2011/12).

The Condition of Britain is a flagship IPPR research and policy programme aimed at:

o Understanding the major pressures facing families and society as Britain begins to recover from economic crisis - as well as the sources of resilience and hope in people's lives.

o Charting new political strategies and policy responses to these pressures - learning from previous experience and rooted in centre-Left values.

During a series of visits, discussion groups and meetings, we have had over 250 conversations with people from across the country, while the Voices of Britain project showcases (on a dedicated website) over 150 stories from people across the country. We have also met with community leaders, charity workers, public sector professionals, local and national politicians, researchers, policy specialists, employers and local people from all walks of life.

For more see: http://ippr.org/research-project/44/10307/the-condition-of-britain