What do the parties want to do for family life in the UK?

The new edition of Family Education Trust's Bulletin has just been published. It contains a very helpful summary of all family-related proposals in the manifestos of the parties contesting the UK general election next week which we reproduce below.

The whole Bulletin is available to read online here.

Conservative Party

In a section on ‘vulnerable children’, the Conservative Party manifesto states: ‘A strong society needs strong families’. It goes on to commit to improving the Troubled Families programme and championing Family Hubs ‘to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives’.

While in 2015 the Conservatives committed themselves to ‘backing the institution of marriage in our society’ by retaining the transferable tax allowance between married spouses and undertaking to ensure that ‘the transferable amount will always rise at least in line with the Personal Allowance’, the only reference to marriage this time around appears in a statement of opposition to forced marriage in a section headed ‘Supporting all victims of crime’.

This section of the manifesto also contains a pledge to ‘protect people from physical attack or harassment whether for their sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability’, and to ‘vigorously combat harassment and violence against all religious groups, and against LGBT people’.

The only other explicit reference to LGBT issues appears in a section headed ‘Promoting our values’, which includes a commitment to supporting ‘marginalised communities in the developing world, hosting the UK government’s first ever international LGBT conference’.

The Conservative manifesto states:

‘Raising a family should be the most fulfilling experience of your life. But for too many parents, the costs of childcare are a heavy burden. We want to give parents the freedom, support and choice to look after their children in the way that works best for them. We will establish a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality, affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays.’

A government headed by Boris Johnson would ‘continue to ensure that parents can choose the schools that best suit their children and best prepare them for the future’ and would ‘continue to build more free schools’.

On the role of Ofsted and bullying in schools, the manifesto states:

‘Unlike Labour, we believe that Ofsted inspection serves a valuable purpose not just in improving standards but in improving behaviour. We will continue to help teachers tackle bullying, including homophobic bullying. No child should be bullied on account of who their parents are or where they come from.’

Child poverty
In order to help those looking after family members, ‘especially women’, a Conservative administration would ‘support the main carer in any household receiving the Universal Credit payment’. Elsewhere in the manifesto the party explains that its support for the main carer receiving Universal Credit ‘will help give greater independence to individuals, most often women, trapped with coercive partners’.

There is also a commitment to continuing to use the tax and benefits system to reduce poverty, including child poverty. The manifesto asserts:

‘Children should grow up in an environment with no limits to their potential – which is one of the reasons we are making it a priority to put more money in the pockets of low-paid workers and maintaining our commitment to free school meals.’

Domestic abuse
Under a Conservative government the Domestic Abuse Bill, which passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 2 October, would continue its passage through Parliament.

The manifesto also contains a commitment to ‘increase support for refuges and community support for victims of rape and sexual abuse’ and to ‘pilot integrated domestic abuse courts that address criminal and family matters in parallel’.

Online safety
The Conservatives would ‘legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online – protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online’. At the same time, however, it would seek to defend freedom of expression and, in particular, recognise and defend ‘the invaluable role of a free press’.

Drug addiction
In a section on breaking the cycle of reoffending, the Conservative manifesto states:

‘Drug addiction fuels crime, violence and family breakdown – and new dangerous substances are driving an increase in deaths from drug abuse. We will tackle drug-related crime, and at the same time take a new approach to treatment so we can reduce drug deaths and break the cycle of crime linked to addiction.’

Work-life balance
A Conservative government would ‘want to look at more radical ways to support working families in the UK’. The manifesto notes that ‘our lifestyles have been transformed over the last four decades’, with many families today having two working parents who are juggling work and other responsibilities. Particular concern is expressed about the way that caring responsibilities can have a big impact on the careers of women and limit their participation in the workplace.

The Conservatives would introduce ‘a raft of measures that balance the needs of employees and employers’, including:
● encouraging flexible working and consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to;
● legislating to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care;
● making it easier for fathers to take paternity leave;
● extending the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to a week;
● funding more high-quality childcare before and after school and during the holidays so that working parents do not have to choose between their careers and their children.


Labour Party

In the section of its manifesto on social security, the Labour Party states a commitment to ‘put children at the heart of everything we do’ But it equally pledges that women, inclusion and LGBT+ equality would be ‘at the heart’ of a Labour government’s programme. In spelling out what it would mean for children to be at the centre of the Party’s agenda, the manifesto refers to ‘developing a cross-governmental National Strategy for Childhood focusing on health, security, wellbeing and poverty’ and ‘giving effect’ to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Labour manifesto contains only two references to marriage and both relate to same-sex marriage. It boasts that ‘only with Labour votes could equal marriage become law’ and promises that: ‘A Labour government will fully implement new laws on equal marriage in Northern Ireland so that same-sex couples are no longer treated as second-class citizens.’ There is also a pledge to ‘introduce a no-fault divorce procedure’.

Labour would ‘uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions’ and would ensure that women in Northern Ireland have access to abortions in the Province.

Early intervention
A Labour government would ‘rebuild early intervention services and replace the Troubled Families programme with a Stronger Families programme, refocused on long-term support to reduce the risk of children going into care’.

Early years provision
The Labour manifesto pledges to ‘reverse cuts to Sure Start and create a new service, Sure Start Plus, with enough centres to provide a genuinely universal service, available in all communities, focused on the under-2s’. Paid maternity leave would be extended to 12 months, and within five years, all 2, 3 and 4-year-olds would be entitled to 30 hours of free preschool education per week with access to additional hours at affordable, subsidised rates staggered with incomes.

Labour would pay childcare costs up front so that parents are not forced to turn down work or get into debt to pay for childcare. A Labour government would also work to extend childcare provision for 1-year-olds and to ensure that childcare provision accommodates the working patterns of all parents.

According to the Labour manifesto, ‘The narrowing curriculum is denying many children access to modern languages, arts and music, or technical and engineering skills that will be essential in a world shaped by climate change.’

A government headed by Jeremy Corbyn would ‘review the curriculum to ensure that it enriches students and covers subjects such as black history, and continues to teach issues like the Holocaust. Pupils will learn both the science of climate and environmental emergency, and the skills necessary to deal with them.’

In the view of the Labour Party, ‘The academies system is over-centralised, inefficient and undemocratic. Parents, communities and even teachers are shut out of decisions about schools and vulnerable children are being let down.’

All schools would be subject to a common rulebook, set out in legislation, and local authorities would take responsibility for the delivery of education and support for young people

Ofsted would be replaced and a new body created to take responsibility for inspections.

Tax loopholes enjoyed by elite private schools would be closed and the money used to improve the lives of all children. The Social Justice Commission would advise on integrating private schools and creating a comprehensive education system.

Free school meals would be introduced for all primary school children, and breakfast clubs would be encouraged.

Children’s health
A Labour government would target a reduction in health inequalities with a comprehensive children’s health strategy, and recruit 4,500 more health visitors and school nurses. It would increase mandated health visits, ensure access to breastfeeding support for new mothers and introduce mental health assessments in a maternal health check six weeks after the birth of a child.

Labour would invest in children’s oral health, tackle childhood obesity, extend the sugar tax to milk drinks, ban fast-food restaurants near schools and enforce stricter rules around the advertising of junk food and levels of salt in food.

A £845 million plan for Healthy Young Minds would more than double the annual spending on children and adolescent mental health services, and every child would have guaranteed access to a school counsellor.

Voting age
Labour would reduce the voting age to 16 (as would the Liberal Democrats and the Greens).

Online safety
A Labour government would enforce a legal duty of care to protect children online, impose fines on companies that fail on online abuse and empower the public with a Charter of Digital Rights.

LGBT+ Equality
Labour is committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to introduce self-declaration for transgender people, and would ‘eliminate remaining areas of discrimination [against LGBT+ people] in law’. A Jeremy Corbyn government would:
● ensure that public services are LGBT+ inclusive and deliver on the national LGBT Action Plan;
● take steps to safeguard LGBT+ rights both inside and outside the EU;
● provide sufficient funding for schools to deliver mandatory LGBT+ inclusive relationships and sex education;
● fully fund sexual health services and roll out PrEP medication;
● respond fast and firmly wherever LGBT+ people face violence or persecution internationally and appoint a dedicated global ambassador to the Foreign Office on LGBT+ issues.


Liberal Democrat Party

Near the beginning of a chapter on ‘Our Plan to Build a Fair Society’, the Liberal Democrat manifesto asserts that:

‘The Conservatives have intentionally designed the welfare system for a traditional family with a main breadwinner and two children, which is entirely out of step with the modern world. Labour have a nostalgic attachment to a nine-to-five working life that does not suit modern life either, as increasingly households have two earners and people want to be able to work flexibly.’

In response, the Liberal Democrats propose to introduce reforms to the welfare system, to include ‘tackling child poverty by removing the two-child limit and the benefits cap’ and ‘making work pay by increasing work allowances and introducing a second earner work allowance’.

Apart from a pledge to ‘scrap the Marriage Tax Allowance’ and to introduce legal recognition of humanist marriages, the only other references to marriage in the manifesto relate to same-sex and transgender marriage. A Liberal Democrat government would:

Complete the introduction of equal marriage, by:
– Removing the spousal veto.*
– Allowing those marriages that were dissolved solely due to the Gender Recognition process to be retrospectively restored.
– Enabling the Church of England and Church in Wales to conduct same-sex marriages.

It would also introduce a right to no-fault divorce.

Liberal Democrats would ‘extend limited legal rights to cohabiting couples, for example, to give them greater protection in the event of separation or a partner’s death.

The manifesto states:

We believe that everyone has a right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state, and that access to reproductive healthcare is a human right. We will:
● Decriminalise abortion across the UK while retaining the existing 24-week limit and legislate for access to abortion facilities within Northern Ireland.
● Enforce safe zones around abortion clinics, make intimidation or harassment of abortion service users and staff outside clinics, or on common transport routes to these services, illegal.
● Fund abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of nationality or residency.

Early years
A Jo Swinson government would provide free childcare for all children with parents in full-time work (35 hours per week, 48 weeks per year) aged between nine and 24 months, and for all children from the age of two years, up to the time they start school.

£1 billion a year would be invested in Children’s Centres to support families and tackle inequalities in children’s health, development and life chances, and the Early Years Pupil Premium would be tripled (to £1,000) to give extra help to disadvantaged children who are at risk of falling behind from the very beginning of their education.

The Liberal Democrats would introduce a ‘curriculum for life’ in all state-funded schools, to include Personal, Social and Health Education, financial literacy, environmental awareness, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education, citizenship and age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Teaching about sexual consent, LGBT+ relationships, and issues surrounding explicit images and content would be included in RSE.

Ofsted would be replaced with a new HM Inspector of Schools. Inspections would consider a broader range of factors including the social and emotional development of children, and the wellbeing of staff and pupils. Schools would have a statutory duty to promote the wellbeing of their pupils as part of the inspection framework. Independent schools would be subject to the same inspection regime.

An independent body of education experts would be established to use the most up-to-date educational evidence to oversee any future curriculum changes.

Bullying, including bullying on the basis of gender, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression, would be tackled by promoting pastoral leadership in schools and delivering high-quality sex and relationships education.

The ‘curriculum for life’ would include teaching about how to use social media responsibly and provide advice and support for parents on how to help their children protect themselves online.

Education and Gender
A Liberal Democrat government would ‘require inclusive school uniform policies that are gender-neutral and flexible enough to suit different budgets, and provide training for school staff on how to review and improve their uniform policies’. It would also ‘challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects.’

LGBT issues
A government headed by Jo Swinson would ‘address continuing inequalities in health services access faced by same-sex couples, and continue to improve LGBT+ healthcare overall’. It would also ‘ensure accurate population data on sexual orientation and gender identity by including a question on LGBT+ status within the 2021 Census’ and require all companies with more than 250 employees to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.

The Liberal Democrats would legislate to allow all-BAME and all-LGBT+ shortlists and ‘develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting the decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world and advancing LGBT+ rights’.

They are committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act to ‘remove the requirement for medical reports, scrap the fee and recognise non-binary gender identities’ and would also introduce an ‘X’ gender option on passports and extend equality law to cover gender identity and expression.

* Under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the partner of a married or civil partnered transsexual person is required to give written permission before a Gender Recognition Certificate can be issued.


Scottish National Party

The SNP’s manifesto for the 2019 Westminster election had not been published when we went to press, but the following policies feature on its website.

Early years
The SNP is committed to further expanding the provision of free childcare and early learning for vulnerable two year-olds and all three and four year-olds..

Fiscal policy
The SNP is strongly opposed to the restriction of tax credits to a maximum of two children for any new claimants unless a woman can demonstrate that a third or subsequent child was born as a result of rape.

LGBT issues
The SNP states that Scotland’s same-sex marriage legislation is viewed by many as one of the most progressive equal marriage laws in the world because of the provisions on gender identity and gender reassignment equality. The party is now committed to build on this to do more to progress equality for trans people.

It is committed to reviewing and reforming gender recognition law, so that it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex. SNP MPs will additionally press the UK government to allow non-binary people to record their gender as ‘X’ on passports and all other UK-wide records and identity documents

The SNP will also campaign for intersex people and organisations to be fully consulted on changes to the law and policy to introduce effective protections for their human rights.


Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru’s manifesto makes no reference to cohabitation, marriage or divorce, but one of its five key priorities is to offer a fair deal for families. This would include:
● £35 a week for every child in low income families.
● Universal free childcare for children aged between one and three for 40 hours a week.
● The imposition of statutory targets for reducing child poverty.

Plaid Cymru plans to use schools as family support hubs, with multi-agency early intervention for vulnerable children and their families from birth. A new school curriculum would aim to ‘foster a good understanding of mental health and wellbeing… with more time earmarked for physical activity, as well as provision for lessons on healthy relationships, citizenship, children’s rights and Welsh identity’.

The party believes that ‘LGBTQI+ voices and experiences need to be heard and affirmed… [and] schools in Wales will be required to keep a register of bullying incidents related to sexuality. It plans to promote LGBT participation in sport and ‘work with clubs and organisations to reduce homophobic, transphobic and sexist behaviour’.

Plaid Cymru will ‘support the reform of the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a streamlined, de-medicalised process [and] will support efforts to reform the Equality Act to include “gender identity” as a protected characteristic and to remove the use of the terms “gender reassignment” and “transsexual” from the Act’.


Green Party

The Green Party manifesto states a commitment to:

● Extend the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights to give women in all EU countries access to legal, safe and affordable abortion services.
● Provide 35 hours a week of free childcare for all, from the age of nine months.
● Ensure that all forms of birth control are free and that PrEP – a daily pill which prevents HIV infection – is provided by NHS England without delay.
● Increase funding for areas of the NHS heavily relied on by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer and Asexual (LGBTIQA+) people, including trans healthcare, gender identity clinics, HIV treatment and mental health provision.
● Properly fund training to support the delivery of comprehensive, age-appropriate Personal Health and Sexual Education (PHSE) lessons in schools covering all aspects of sex and relationships, with a focus on consent.
● End the parental opt-out from LGBTIQA+ inclusive PHSE classes at school to ensure that every child learns about different types of couples and families that make up UK society.
● Remove the spousal veto so that married trans people can acquire their gender recognition certificate without having to obtain permission from their spouse.
● Change the law so an ‘X’ gender marker can be added to passports for non-binary and intersex people who wish to use it, and update the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans youth and non-binary people to get legal recognition through self-declaration.


UK Independence Party

In a short section devoted to ‘Children and Families’, UKIP’s interim manifesto states that:  ‘Stable, active and intact two-parent families are the bedrock of a robust society, whereas broken families are much more likely to be dependent on the state, have poorer physical and mental health and contribute less to wider society.’

The manifesto sets out the following policies:
● Opposition to ‘gender confusion ideologies and the implementation of compulsory LGBT-inclusive relationships education in primary schools’.
● Opposition to ‘the disempowerment of parents by the state, whereby its institutions are increasingly dictating the norms and values children learn and supplanting the role of parents… [T]he education system is being used more as a means of indoctrination than education.’
● The introduction of further safeguards into the operation of the Family Courts to ensure that injustices are not perpetrated on parents.
● The abolition of inheritance tax.
● The protection of freedom of conscience and speech. UKIP would scrap ‘hate speech’ guidelines, repeal the Equality Act 2010 and close down the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Government Equalities Office.


Brexit Party

In its ‘Contract with the People’, the Brexit Party says nothing about marriage and very little about the family or education. It does, however, propose to expand parental choice in education, to protect free speech in universities and to abolish inheritance tax, which it describes as a ‘grief tax’ levied at a time of family distress.

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