family photo parents and two children

Today sees the publication of a short but potentially influential document entitled a ‘Manifesto to Strengthen Families’ from a group of Conservative MPs.

Read our view.

Author: Richard Meier, Policy & Communications Manager, Tavistock Relationships

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Written by Fiona Bruce MP (previously chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Strengthening Couple Relationships) and Lord Farmer (who has long campaigned for policies to increase family stability), this wide-ranging manifesto sets out 18 policy asks to strengthen relationships and family life. Notably, it has the backing of 49 Conservative MPs and 8 peers. 

Why is this document important?

The manifesto which the Conservative Party fought the 2017 election upon was, I think it is fair to say, rather light on family policy (admittedly, one could say the same for the manifestos of the other leading parties). However, after a growing acknowledgment within Government during the Cameron years of the importance of strong and stable family life to the common good, it was somewhat surprising that the Conservative Party became so quickly silent on this entire area of social policy. 

The manifesto published today, which I understand was sent in advance to No.10, does not pull its punches, stating that ‘stronger families are vital if the Government is to achieve its welcome aims to increase social mobility, deliver social justice, and make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few’.

A large number of the policy asks contained in this manifesto speak to concerns previously articulated either by the Relationships Alliance or by Tavistock Relationships on its own.

These include that:

  • the Government should encourage Local Authorities to move towards a Family Hub model, that will particularly help children in need and provide services to reduce relationship conflict and support couples at risk of separation and those struggling post-separation. 
  • Government strategy on improving childhood mental health problems should recognise the importance of improving family relationships and work towards the development of a family mental health service. Given the evidence that couple conflict is a massive driver of young people’s mental health problems, couple counselling should be available for parents within Children and Young People’s Mental Health teams. The Government should fund pilot projects to establish the hallmarks of the most effective practice.
  • NHS and local public health commissioners need to recognise the importance of interpersonal dynamics to good mental health by extending the provision of Couple Therapy for Depression 
  • the Government should make Birth Registration available in a Family Hub (or Children’s Centre) which should be used to signpost new parents to support services and through a structured conversation identify families with early warning signs of relationship distress and in need of parenting support.
  • maternity services should personally invite fathers to antenatal appointments and fatherhood preparation classes. Such preparation should include how to recognise, with their baby’s mother, the strains on their own relationship and how to cope with them. 

We believe that these policy asks are timely and well-founded. The Early Intervention Foundation’s review of evidence, What works to enhance inter-parental relationships and improve outcomes for children (2016), shows why it is so important that we develop evidence-based interventions to reduce the impact of inter-parental conflict on children’s mental health; the pilot projects called for in this manifesto would be a welcome and important contribution towards that goal.

Equally, the creation of family hubs offers the potential for local authorities to meaningfully intervene to reduce levels of couple conflict. The call for wider provision of Couple Therapy for Depression is also welcome, and one which we have been making ourselves for some time now; for this to happen requires real political will however, and we hope that the publication of this manifesto – backed by a quarter of all MPs of the party currently in Government – will make the creation of that political will that bit more likely.