Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale seeks to challenge lazy attempts to simply blame the parents after this week of rioting and violence

 

Parents. Apparently, it’s all their fault. “Broken families leads to broken Britain.” We’re told indiscipline in the home and classroom leads to riots on the street.

Cliches, followed by platitudes and soundbites frames a one dimensional immature debate which fails completely to make any sense of what’s happening on the streets of our country. Yes, Mr Salmond, our country.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, or indeed to understand even the magnitude of complex factors that resulted in this week of terror – but I would like to comment on the attempts to simply blame the parents.

From my perspective, to ‘blame the parents’ is to accept that bringing up a child is something an individual does in isolation. As if the experience they have at school or in their community is irrelevant, as long as the family unit is strong.

It’s much harder for politicians to take about the failings of the state because of the vested interests they’ve had in creating it and its functions.

What’s happening this week also needs to be read in the context of the Welfare Reform Bill and the sweeping changes it will make. It’s a bill with the best of intentions to ‘make work pay,’ but with a multitude of disastrous consequences.

One of the least understood aspects in my view, is the proposed changes to the Child Maintenance system. A clear statement of the Government’s attitude to its own role and purpose.

The Government’s intention is try and encourage people to make their own arrangements with their ex-partner for the care of their child. If the lone parent needs the state to intervene, then they will have to pay for it.

The welfare of the taxpayer yet again put before the welfare of the child.

There will be a one off fee of £100 for the use of the state system (£50 if you’re on benefits.) Then, the non-caring parent will be charged an additional 15-20% of each monthly maintenance sum, paid to the state. If that wasn’t enough, the caring parent will also have to surrender between 7 and 12% of the money they receive monthly to the government for the privilege of state intervention.

Exploitation of vulnerable people that would make companies like wonga.com faint with envy – but this time it’s the Government who is the ‘lone shark.’

If this is a Government that cares about the big picture, then why on earth would it seek to profit from a broken marriage?

The Government must recognise that if parenting is everything, then the environment it creates to help families stay together, and to cope when they don’t, is absolutely crucial.

In happier news, I visited an amazing project operated by Barnardos this week called “You first.” It works with young mums and dads in small groups, equipping them with the skills to play properly. It’s a pilot and there’s hope that it could be rolled out nation wide in the future.

I can see the tabloid headlines now – “Government pays for teenage mums to sing humpty dumpty,” but play is incredibly important to the emotional, physical and neurological development of children. Deprive children of it and their ability to learn is tarnished.

The inequality of opportunity and life chances begins before they can speak.

This type of a preventative investment is at the heart of the Christie Commission – but that’s a blog post for another day.

However it will be a desperately sad tomorrow if the batons and plastic shields go back in the vans only for the business of welfare reform to resume unaffected.

Kezia Dugdale is a Labour MSP for the Lothians region and Co-Chair of the Cross Party Group on Children & Young People. For more on the campaign against child support charges see http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/