Labour must regain universal principles.

    It’s a strange but not unpleasant sensation to listen to a
    Conservative MP as he surrenders to the world as it exists
    today.

    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
    all.

    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
    price.

    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
    count.

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