Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Clegg on Marriage Part 2: We'll Take Your Toddlers

Following on from yesterdays post about Nick Cleggs views on marriage, there's also a deep contradiction at the heart of Cleggs speech on how to spend government money. Take this:

...I have made clear that intergenerational social mobility is the principal objective of the Coalition’s social policy. And why I have been so determined to increase our investment in the vital early years, including, recently, by extending the new two-year old offer to an additional 130,000 toddlers in working families

and a reminder of what Clegg said about state finance and marriage:
We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.

Now I may be being thick here, but I can't actually see the difference between using state money to encourage marriage and using state money to encourage a particular model of childcare. Both are using state money to incentivise/encourage/nudge (pick your own) a particular family form.

In the first case, the family form is of two working parents, and the state picking up more of the childcare. This has various benefits for the government: a more flexible labour market, a chance to get it's OFSTED-regulated hands on the children of 'problem families' at an earlier stage, and some good headlines about spending money on kids. It also has benefits for families where both parents want to work (or need to work to pay for mortgage, student fees, fuel bills, you name it) it's less costly to do so with small children. It also extends the pressure on new mums to go back to paid work, and basically says that the government would prefer them doing this than the work of parenting.

So this isn't actually about whether the government should subsidise or incentivise a particular family form. It's politics: being sniffy about marriage puts clear yellow water between Clegg and the Tories, spending money on kids is like motherhood and apple pie. Unless your a mother of course, because you're being told that what you do doesn't matter as much as if you were on the checkout at Tesco. Clegg is simply continuing the social engineering begun under New Labour: let the state raise your children, now you go find your place in the economic machine.

If Clegg really wanted to be radical, he would make the offer of free childcare conditional. Not means-tested, but linked to some form of parenting support and training, such as Positive Parenting (used extensively by our local Sure Start centre). That would incentivise a social good (good parenting), whilst promoting the governments aim of early intervention in troubled families.

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