What it takes to be a bad parent
It’s the sort of coincidence commentators long for: at the same time as Eric Pickles says its time to stigmatise problem families, the story about David and Samantha Cameron leaving their daughter in the pub leaks out.
Most parents will have thought “there, but for the grace of God go I” and all of us will have imagined how frightened they must have been. The important point to take from this incident isn’t a cheap joke at the PM’s expense; it’s the way different parents get treated. In January, Charles Taylor, the Government’s ‘behaviour czar’, blamed last year’s riots on an ‘underclass’ created by families in poor areas:
We know who these children are. Many come from homes where their mothers and fathers have been unable to perform the most basic of parenting duties
He was immediately backed up by ‘sources close to’ Education Secretary Michael Gove, who said they were “supportive” of his comments.
And back in 2008, David Cameron himself told GMTV that today’s “great villains and problems” weren’t “the over-mighty trade unions” (thank you) but “irresponsible parenting, family breakdown and anti- social behaviour”. Last year he returned to the theme, and said it was “families from hell” who are “the source of a large proportion of the problems in society.” (He may stand by these comments, but I’ll be he wishes he hadn’t drawn our attention to “the work of Emma Harrison, who has given us all inspiration.”)
This approach sounds a bit harsh to me, but Eric Pickles thinks that reaction is part of the problem:
Sometimes we have run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame.
(In fact, Mr Pickles’ argument that 120,000 problem families lie at the heart of many social problems and they should take the blame, is based on weak statistics, using a definition which, as Jonathan Portes has pointed out, identifies whether a family is poor, not whether they are “troubled.”)
Yes, the Daily Mail is right to emphasise how “distraught” the Prime Minister and his wife were, of course they were. What’s wrong with this picture is the assumption that parents in poverty don’t have the same decent instincts.
We can all make mistakes, and any of us might make more of them if we had to cope with the stresses of poverty. Blaming child poverty and other social problems on the personal failings of parents is cruel and unfair.