Newsletter June 2011

Introducing the RF Family Pressure Gauge


In opposition and in government, the coalition parties have pledged to make the UK “the most family friendly country in Europe”. But, so far, little action has been taken to that end. The Relationships Foundation has developed and now published a Pressure Gauge which compares the pressures on families across Europe. It shows there is much to do, and highlights where the Government should focus its activity in order to achieve its aims.


The Pressure Gauge is an index consisting of 25 indicators drawn from official Eurostat, Eurofound, and OECD data. These have been selected based on the Conservative Manifesto’s understanding of pressure and grouped into four domains: financial pressures, work pressures, caring and parenting pressures, and living environment.


The greatest pressures in the UK are financial, with household debt, childcare costs and living costs pushing us to the top of the table. We do better overall on work pressures, but at one end of the spectrum we have long working hours and high numbers working unsocial hours, and at the other we have high numbers of people living in workless households. Many European countries put greater caring burdens on their citizens than we have in the UK, although we have the second worst maternity and paternity provisions (as well as an imbalance between the two). Finally, the extent of unhealthy influences on children makes the living environment for families in the UK among the worst in Europe. Overall, British families are the third most pressured in Europe, with only those in Romania and Bulgaria being worse off. Click here for more findings.


Behind those powerful headlines, the bigger story of the report is a lack of focus, clarity, and strategy from a Government which has pledged much. Commenting, Michael Trend, our Executive Director, said: “Sideline family policy and you court systemic failure. The clamour for a change in approach from the heart of government is growing: a year on from the general election it is time the Coalition got its act together on family policy.”


Go to our website to download the report that made it into the Independent, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mirror. Families matter across the spectrum!



Big Society re-launch: Warm words welcome: hard action needed

Commenting on David Cameron’s Big Society re-launch, Michael Trend said:


“Once again, it is encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s heartfelt belief in the power of strong families to deliver social change.


“But once again, he is missing the opportunity to set out concrete policy proposals for achieving the objective. As our new Pressure Gauge has shown, Britain is nearly the least family friendly country in Europe, and we need a strategy to dig us out of that hole.


“We have heard what the Government believes: now we need to hear what it will do.”


Immediate priorities should be to establish a family policy unit in the cabinet office, family proofing policy, and triple testing all Government activity for economic, environmental, and social impact. Medium term should focus on strengthening relationship skills, not least through Couple Relationships Education. Longer term priorities are reducing the pressures families face, not least high mortgages and rents, high debt, and anti-social working hours.



RF call on Government to price nurture as well as nature

Now that DEFRA has priced nature, the Government should also price nurture. This would help civil servants and private businesses assess the social costs of their actions.


Following the success of our 2009 Triple Test pamphlet, Relationships Foundation is campaigning for the Government to adopt triple-bottom-line accounting in all its policy pricing and evaluation.


Triple-bottom-line accounting adds the environmental and the social impact of a business or policy to the economic one. As such, it gives a truer price of the impact of any policy on society.


It is increasingly being adopted in the private sector and embraced by governments across the world. The Australian Government recently commissioned a report to analyse and promote it. The South African Government has added a measurement of stakeholder relations to its regulatory framework. During its six month presidency of the European Council, Belgium produced a report on Social Impact Assessment. Both the Canadian and US governments have similar frameworks.


Currently the Green Book, the UK Government’s policy handbook, does promote social impact assessments. But, unlike the US equivalent, it offers no help in pricing the value of strengthened families and communities. As such, it does not reflect the stated priorities of the current Government, partly because it was last updated in 2003.



Work by the Relationships Foundation has found that family breakdown alone costs the UK taxpayer £42 billion a year – more than the defence budget. David Cameron himself said at the launch of the wellbeing consultation “People’s wellbeing often depends on the quality of their relationships, so we should ask as a country, why do we spend billions and billions on the consequences of family breakdown, but so little on trying to help families stay together?” One government source has also said “Next time we have a comprehensive spending review, let’s not just guess what effect various policies will have on people’s well-being. Let’s actually know.”


Commenting, Michael Trend said:


“Caroline Spelman is convinced of the value of understanding what we get free from nature: the Government needs now to price what we get free from nurture.


“Governments worldwide are using triple testing as they seek to stimulate economies without stoking societal collapse. Yet our figures show that the UK taxpayer loses £42 billion a year to the consequences of family breakdown, and still the Coalition drags its feet.


“If you can put a price on parks, how much more the families who play in them?”



National Family Week

National Family Week ran from the 30th May to the 5th June. We contributed a series of press releases of which this is one:



Worrying Weekend Working


Relationships Foundation published research which highlights the pressures on families who work weekends.


There are 6.5 million working families in the UK. Three quarters are affected by weekend working, and 24% (1.56 million) have a parent who works Sundays. One in five working families (1.3 million) have a parent who regularly works both Saturday and Sunday.


Working ‘unsocial hours’ (outside of 8am-7pm, Monday to Friday) can have a devastating effect on parents’ time with their children. Parents who work in these hours spend up to ten hours less with their children than parents who don’t.


Frank Field and Graham Allen, in their reports to the Government on Child Poverty, have found that parenting is much more important than money in improving a child’s chances in life. In 2007, David Cameron set out his desire to give families a ‘time increase’.


Weekend working also often leads to ‘shift parenting’: one parent looks after the children while the other works, and then they swap. This has two negative outcomes. Parents lose quality time with one another, which can weaken their relationship. Children lose quality time with both parents: watching adults interact is a key part of child development.


Furthermore it affects children in poverty more than any others: 15% of people with a degree work at weekends, whereas 38% of those with no qualifications do. Families on benefits are 35% more likely to be working at weekends than families who aren’t.


Commenting, Michael Trend, Executive Director of the Relationships Foundation, said:


“It is a sobering thought that as many of us enjoy a lazy Sunday with friends and family, millions of children across the country are deprived of the company of their parents.


“It is even more sobering when you think that these are often the very children who need time with parents to give them the best start in life.


“As the Government develops its ‘Family-Friendly’ society it should focus on increasing the time families have together. Until it gets family life right, the Government cannot hope to deliver on any of its pledges.”


Click here for this on the Children & Young People Now website.


Our colleague Sam Barker spoke about National Family Week and the new research we made into the pressures that affect British families on BBC Radio Tees, Solent, Bristol, Leicester, Merseyside, Nottingham, Cumbria, Leeds, Lancashire, Gloucester and Three Counties. Scroll to the end of the press release on this page for a taster.



Campaigning tip

You can be part of the change we want to see. Responding to consultations can be very valuable. It can alert the government to areas they might have missed or consequences they might not have thought through. One current consultation is the consultation on Modern Workplaces, covering parental leave and flexible leave amongst other things. Why not submit a response and let the government know what you think?


The consultation documents are here and you can respond online with your thoughts on Working time regulations,Flexible parental leaveThe right to request flexibleworking, and Equal PayProposals in the Modern Workplaces Bill.


Each consultation should take no more than 10 minutes to respond to, and you don’t have to answer all the questions – just the ones you feel strongly about!


Another consultation you might be interested in is the Family Justice Review, here.