Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The 'Quiet Man' becomes the 'Awkward Man'

Last night, with a flat iPhone (hence no pictures!), I attended the Centre for Social Justice's fringe featuring an interview with Iain Duncan Smith, in between more 'day-job' events.

The CSJ fringe was my first introduction to family breakdown policy, two years ago, before I realised the extent to which I would subsequently be involved. In recent weeks, they have launched a new policy paper, intent on addressing "Fatherlessness, dysfunction and parental separation/divorce" I quickly read through and annotated a copy, noting that there is lots of valuable 'carrot' and no 'stick' at all in their proposed policy approach. Whilst CMEC has powers to destroy the lives and livelihoods of parents who do not pay their maintenance, there is no way of even measuring the compliance of parents with residence, never mind penalising them for failure to act in good faith and in accordance with the law. A shame, since otherwise they make a lot of good proposals.

Anyway, as you will imagine, I not only listened intently to the Secretary of State, but wanted to ask a question in the presence of a packed room.

Asked about his further political aspirations and his return to front-line work with the coalition, he said "This is the only cabinet job I want".

He talked of the £20bn a year spent on family breakdown, and the perverse incentives provided by the benefits system. Challenged on success so far, he pointed out the size of the tanker he is trying to turn, but was blunt in his appraisal of the problem.

On government intervention in families' lives: "Government is intervening ineptly and dysfunctionally... the most dysfunctional family in the system is the government"

Regarding the riots, and the subsequent quietening-down about the causes as time passes: "My job is to be a the awkward man that keeps reminding everyone there's a problem"

At the death, I was invited to ask a question. Quoting Mr Gove's earlier words, I explained that, to my sadness, it is under this government, as the tanker is still slowing, that my little boy and other children like him had lost their Dad, and having been there at birth, men like me were gone now, despite gargantuan efforts.

IDS was, as previously, was not only gracious but kind in his response, even when the interviewer suggested that he couldn't judge who was a good father and who wasn't...

Time is tight today, but with reference to the dreadful recording off my phone, here are some quotes that should encourage us:

"A lot of fathers genuinely do play by the rules, and can't get access to their children. I fully accept that and understand that. There's a tendency in society to say 'Fathers bad, mothers good, full stop' - It's not like that; it's far more complex."

"Family law is too opague - we can't understand why judgements are made"

Speaking of interventions which the state, his preference being through the third sector, might make, he said: "Sometimes [the intervention] is stabilising the mother, because she herself is dysfunctional".

People, particularly 'Anonymous, saviour of the internet', love to claim I am all about retribution towards Mummy. A deeper inspection will tell you that I have made it clear over time that that's not what I'm about at all. (see also here).

Mummy, and other dysfunctional parents and families, are not condemned by Mr Duncan Smith. Rather, he recognises that we have to identify them to help them - and we have to remove the perverse incentives, often provided by the welfare system, which embed dysfunction, and embitter the lives of so many.

Nevertheless, where dysfunction is also manifest as disinterest, and where the 'carrot' is spurned, I do believe we need the 'stick' - and for fundamental equality before law and in the consideration of the state, of both parents. In an age of austerity, it is also noteworthy that you and your family would not be claiming any benefits if you lived with me. Should the state sponsor a child living with a parent who cannot afford them, when the other parent is capable of providing for them?

I was again grateful for the platform to remind the assembled throng of the plight of families like ours, but most of all, I was again grateful to one of the most senior politicians in the land for his personable, kindly concern, and for his keenness both to listen, and to articulate what others consider to be unspeakable truths.

Today I am back to an amount of desk work, though as here in Manchester, the clouds are gathering over that situation. In the former case, this is a bit of a blow, as I left my coat at home!

Hopefully I will have some exciting news for you later - I have a call to pay on my way home...

First up, let's see what Mr Cameron has to say, beyond telling us to pay off our credit cards - something of a sore point for me!

Catch you later.

Love from Daddy.

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