We Must Back All Parents Without Making Judgments, Says Chancellor

Gordon Brown has attempted to draw a clear division between himself and David Cameron over family policy, yesterday arguing that it was not the state’s job to make “ideological judgments” such as rewarding marriage with tax breaks.

{mosimage}The chancellor, under pressure to outline his position on help for parents after the Conservative leader promised to use taxes to promote marriage, told an audience of parents that the government had a duty to support all families “in whatever circumstances” they found themselves.

Mr Brown said government should offer “practical, sustained help, whenever and wherever families need it … rather than making ideological judgments about which types of family or children should or shouldn’t get help”.

The chancellor, whom campaigners for better work-life balances hope will address the growing pressure for new ideas on families and work, also unveiled plans for a labelling system to help parents protect their children from “inappropriate material” on games, films and websites.

Citing the prevalence and diversity of technology as key to the “pressure culture” affecting children, he said the scheme would help parents to exercise the control they wanted. Ofcom had backed a scheme to provide common labelling standards on content across the media.

Mr Brown told his audience, convened by the Equal Opportunities Commission: “Parents wanting to teach their children right and wrong, discipline and standards of behaviour, often find themselves competing with popular culture that often seems to [send] out a contradictory message. Today parents and teachers are under pressure as children are influenced by multimedia sources – TV, the internet, texting, computer games and DVDs, and from more aggressive commercial advertising – compounding the usual problems of peer pressure.”

The chancellor also announced moves to expand Parentline Plus, a helpline and website for parents, and to introduce a system of school “coaches” whereby pupils had a “director of studies” supporting them and liaising with their parents.

The chancellor promised to return “over the coming months” to these parental issues, including the call for flexible working requests to include parents of school-age children. A poll at the meeting showed 83% of parents agreeing that employers should do more to help working parents, and the same proportion thought the government should do more.

Jenny Watson, EOC’s chair, said: “The government has made a good start … but increasing parental leave and flexibility at work are still vital if parents are able to spend time w ith their children,”

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, which works for gender equality, said the chancellor was getting a clear message that the government needed “to put this at the centre of its political agenda”.