It’s a strange but not unpleasant sensation to listen to a
Conservative MP as he surrenders to the world as it exists
At a conference in London, Family Futures: Changing Families
Changing World, organised in part by the National Family and
Parenting Institute, David “Two Brains” Willetts, the thinker in
the Tory party, actually advocated child care, affordable to
No more moralising about the indispensability of the mothering hand
from nought to five. Instead, Willetts pledged that the Tories
would simplify child care funding streams. In addition, they would
reverse the bidding culture. They would also ensure provision for
those who are neither rich nor deprived and who find it almost
impossible to secure child care at all, let alone at an affordable
Professor Fiona Williams, head of the Economic and Social Research
Council research group for the Study of Care, Values and the Future
of Welfare, gave us further reasons to be cheerful.
In a preview of a book just published, Rethinking
Families, she says research indicates that while the shape of
commitments have changed, commitment itself as strong as ever.
Contrary to reports from the Right, we are not motivated by
selfishness, individualism and greed, fleeing from responsibilities
in pursuit of success defined by the work place. What drives most
of us, she says, is trying to do the best we can by those we love.
For some women, for instance, that means full-time work for
“self-actualisation” but also to provide an income; for others it
means staying at home.
She argued, rightly in my view, that care as much as paid work is
the basis of citizenship, social cohesion and the promotion of
equality. We may have families of all sorts and varieties. But they
share in common recognition of the value of interdependence.
The impressive range and diversity of the conference and the
evidence of accelerating party political change, makes it difficult
not to conclude that two major barriers stand in the way of this
government leaving a legacy that truly matters.
One is the reluctance to move from targeted support to universalism
not least, for instance, in the provision of child care. The second
is Labour’s paralysis when it comes to increasing the value and
recognition of care. That reluctance impacts on the lack of
equality; gendered divisions of labour, poverty, low pay, the poor
status awarded many social care professions, the bonding of men
with their children and the formulation of policy. Care has to