And so with much bluster, David Cameron set out his vision for a revived society in the form of £100 vouchers towards parenting classes. Apparently, the riots of last year were, to some extent, caused by poor parenting, and this is something to redress the balance. This at least provides some marginally better odds that the riots of last year won’t be repeated in 15 or so years.
But if only it were that simple. There are lots of reasons to despise this Government, not least my imposed redundancy when the perfectly efficient quango I worked for up to early 2011 was abolished in a totally inefficient and underhand way with Jeremy Hunt leading the charge. My wife’s quango will disappear this year. No, there are lots of other reasons, less subjective than this. The lack of any apparent strategy, the triumph of politics over Government, the taxing of the elderly, the tax relief for the rich, the cuts to public services which affect the less well off, the shipping out of London residents to provincial outposts, the rising job insecurity, rising unemployment, cuts to the organisations tasked with supporting the unemployed and those seeking skills and training, the lack of support for savers, the failure to crack down on financial gambling and the dismantling of the planning system. There might be others that slip my mind.
In this context, the announcement of the £100 vouchers for parenting is small beer, but it’s typical of this government to say, ‘here’s the money, do it yourself’. The likely outcome of this initiative is the uptake of the support from the NCT bothering middle classes who are perfectly capable of finding support elsewhere, through their cappuccino supping friends and their still married parents (a category I fall into) and are likely to be missed from those people in most need of support, both practical and financial, in less fortunate positions.
Worse still, when our first child came into the world three years ago, we received a Government publication, Birth to Five, which my wife considered to be invaluable, impartial and containing different viewpoints of the issues facing parents bringing up children through the early stages right to school age. By the time our second was born earlier this year, the stocks of this book were used up, and the Government has not reissued it.
My wife has written letters of comment and enquiry about this book, and has received three letters from the House of Commons (our own MP, a communications centre and the office of the Secretary of State for Health) all acknowledging both the popularity and the demand for the publication but explaining that no decision has been made on how best to issue this advice to new parents.
Now, it seems to me that if you have a publication that is well regarded, objective, offering different viewpoints and experiences, in demand and in an accessible and universal format, which can add value to parents over the first five years of a child’s life, you keep on providing it. That doesn’t seem to be a very difficult decision to make.
In the meantime, there is a growing gap where this publication is unavailable to everyone, and this voucher system appears, on the face of it to be inequitable, dependent on the quality of the provider and their own perspectives of bringing up children and inadequately targeted at the right people. As ever with this Government, it is time for a rethink, but a rethink is unlikely to come.