Balls unveils fatherhood help

Labour is concentrating on the role of the father in helping keep families together
Labour is concentrating on the role of the father in helping keep families together

By Ian Dunt

Labour will take on the Conservatives at their own game today, as children's secretary Ed Balls unveils the government's green paper on families and relationships.

Fathers will be given lessons in parenting as part of an effort to prevent family breakdown, following research which shows fathers involved early on in their children's life tend to stick with the family.

The legal system will also be simplified to make it easier to grandparents to keep in contact with their grandchildren.

A review of the family justice system will look at alternative ways for family conflicts to be dealt with out of the courts and seperating parents will be encouraged to go into mediation, rather than protracted legal disputes.

The green paper is a welcome opportunity for Labour to battle the Tories on the 'broken society' agenda, which the opposition have dominated up until now.

But Labour strategists smell blood in the form of the married couples' tax allowance. David Cameron has repeatedly changed his rhetoric on the policy, as questions about its cost and moral tone are asked.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats strongly oppose it, and many children and family groups consider it unhelpful given the make-up of modern Britain.

The policy remains close to Mr Cameron's heart, however, and analysts expect it to be in the Conservative manifesto when Britain finally goes to the polls.

The Tories also outlined their family policies today, in which the party called for marriage to be recognised in the tax system.

"The government's general approach of creating leaflets and websites without confronting the big issues does not meet the challenge that is before us," said shadow Cabinet member with responsibility for family policy, David Willetts.

But he did back the proposals around grandparents.

"This adoption of the Conservative idea to give greater rights to grandparents is a welcome move," MR Willetts said.

"For far too long the government has focused only on the relationship between mother and baby. In doing so they have ignored the other important relationships like those between parents and involving other family members like grandparents."

The Liberal democrats lambasted both sets of proposals, saying the two main parties "won;t tackle family problems".

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: "Labour and the Tories are deluding themselves if they think that tweaking the tax system or printing leaflets for fathers is going to make a blind bit of difference to tackling the problems of family break-up and instability in Britain.

"When the Tories were last in power they abolished the Married Couples Allowance, in part because it was totally ineffective in supporting marriage.

"I doubt that the Tory shadow cabinet actively supports this blatantly unfair policy, which has more to do with political posturing than serious policy."

The concentration on fathers follows research from the Fatherhood Institute thinktank which found greater participation by the father in childcare during early years development improved the child's outcomes and helps alleviate stress and depression among mothers.

The Royal College of Midwives will issue guidance to midwives which includes fathers-to-be during and after birth. A ten-page leaflet giving practical and legal advice to fathers will be distributed.


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