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At last, a Labour minister who says two parents are best
By STEVE DOUGHTY 15th September 2006
Eight years of New Labour doctrine was thrown away when a senior Cabinet minister admitted that two parent families are best.
John Hutton said the evidence for the superiority of the two-parent family could not be ignored.
And the Work and Pensions Secretary - who is in charge of the bulk of the benefits system - called for changes to the welfare state to provide 'support for partners' and 'the family as a whole'.
Mr Hutton's speech acknowledged the importance of years of evidence that children from single-parent families are far more likely to suffer poverty and illhealth, to do badly at school, to be sucked into crime and drug abuse, and to become unemployed or single parents themselves.
But it flies in the face of eight years of Labour family and welfare policies that have been based on the notion that all types of families are just as good as each other.
Even this week a Government paper on fighting poverty and deprivation made no mention of single parenthood.
Mr Hutton said: "We cannot ignore the increasing evidence that points to the benefits
for children of a stable family life with two parents living together."
He added: "Children from separated families are more likely to have no qualifications than those from families with two parents living together.
"Children from separated families are less likely by the age of 23 to have obtained a university degree.
"And not only are children in lone parent families more likely to be living in poverty at any one point in time - but they have a consistently lower probability of moving out of poverty."
The speech from Mr Hutton, an arch-Blairite, echoes the speeches the Prime Minister made in his early days in Downing Street.
But the concern with shoring up the family disappeared in 1998 when a green paper on supporting families said all types were equally good.
Mr Hutton's speech - titled 'supporting families' - is likely to annoy Chancellor Gordon Brown, whose tax credit system has been at the heart of the Government's attempt to alleviate child poverty.
Tax credits, which are directed heavily towards persuading single mothers to work, do little to help two-parent families and critics say they drive couples apart.
He went on: "We need to look at ways in which we can shift the focus of the welfare system towards the family as a whole, with new support for partners added on to pre-existing programmes."
Mr Hutton said the family was the bedrock of the welfare state and played a role 'which the state should never seek to substitute'.
The Government has over the past eight years stripped away the tax breaks that once went with marriage and neglected couples in the benefit system. Ministers have even pushed for the very word marriage to be removed from all state documents.
The attempt to break Labour's taboo on two-parent families comes at a time when former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is putting pressure on David Cameron to make support for marriage central to the Conservative platform.
Mr Duncan Smith published a report last week showing that unmarried parents are five times more likely to break up than those who are married.
Long-standing campaigners for the traditional family poured doubts on whether the Government would ever act on Mr Hutton's thinking.
Robert Whelan of the Civitas thinktank said: "We have been here before. This was what Tony Blair was saying up until 1997. Since Mr Hutton is a Blairite, this smacks now of the Prime Minister trying to secure his legacy.
"In practice what we have seen are Gordon Brown's policies which have hugely damaged the family.
"Mr Hutton is unlikely to be around for long enough to make any difference. I wish we could hear speeches like this from politicians in a position to do something about it."
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