Conservatives believe that improving skills promotes marriage
As the F-Word has highlighted, David Willets is concerned that with so many women going to university men are being prevented from becoming family breadwinners. Apparently the ‘evidence’ shows that when men are “no longer given the opportunity to bring home the bacon” and to command a “decent wage” they are unable to “hold a family together”.
For policy makers who are concerned about the economic pressure on family life, one obvious solution would be to advocate a fairer distribution of wealth, so that poverty puts less stress on relationships. The focus could also be placed on improving access to affordable childcare, ending pay inequalities and increasing access to further education for all learners.
But this is not the policy agenda that is being promoted. Instead the priority appears to be getting more young men to university to ensure that more middle class female graduates get married. The line is similar to recent Conservative pronouncements on apprenticeships, when David Willets informed us that young, and specifically working class men needed to learn a trade to make them more marriageable. The central presumption is not therefore that adequate income enables families to stay together, but that male earnings and marriage are central to family stability.
These comments reveal a clear lack of understanding as to why marriage rates are declining, and of the pressures that modern families, of all types, can face. Low-paid and well-paid working women and men can all benefit from improved skills, but believing in a clear link between these achievements and people’s chances of marital success is worringly simplistic. Interestingly, the comments were made in a fringe meeting – David Willets’ main conference speech was silent on the potential that skills policy holds for social engineering. But one day this belief system could be informing national Government.