Fatherhood and family debate

Yesterday I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament about the role of fathers in the family. As Chair of the All-Party Group on Fatherhood this is an issue that is incredibly important to me.

It is vital that we respond to the nature of the modern family and work to support active fatherhood, particularly young fathers, and equip them with the necessary help and support. You can read my full speech below or on Hansard here.

“I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) on securing this important debate. I want to make a brief contribution as the chair of the all-party group on fatherhood. I welcome the work of the Women and Equalities Committee, which looked at this important issue in solidarity with all fathers across the country.

This is a cross-party issue that really ought to command the attention of all political parties, but unfortunately the political class in this country is behind the general public. All political parties are sometimes hijacked by other agendas. In my party, the attention on rights—particularly on women’s and children’s rights, although they are important and I stand by them—has sometimes drowned out the ability to talk about fatherhood. I also think that my political tradition’s emphasis on the state and state support, particularly for poorer families and poorer fathers, has meant that we have sometimes tended to think that the state should do everything, and we have found it hard to talk about children and the role of fathers. For colleagues on the right of the political spectrum, sometimes, just sometimes, the emphasis solely on marriage and the way the state and tax breaks can be used to deal with marriage has made it difficult to talk about other sorts of arrangements in our country, and specifically about fathers. Sometimes the language can slip into talking about feckless fathers.

Perhaps those are the reasons why we stand so far behind many of our continental European brothers and sisters in other countries, who are much further forward on this agenda. It is deeply worrying that the figures for parental leave are so low for fathers, and that we do not recognise, as the public do, that couples make these decisions every day of the week. If we give them a year or so off to care for their children, they will decide between them who is going to do what bit.

We know that fathers want to spend time with their children. They want to be engaged right from the get-go. How can we as a state facilitate that? I was worried when I was mooting changes to child benefits, because there is a very strong group that believes that we cannot give dad the child benefit or put it in his name because he is going to run off down the pub with the money. That seems a very old-fashioned view, and is not my experience of the fathers I meet up and down the country.

I am very worried about how we support young fathers. We cannot deal with teenage pregnancy unless we support young fathers and think about their housing and how they are going to be connected to their children. We need to think about the fact that our public services really do not respond to young fathers, particularly those from a working-class background, whether white or black. Some children’s centres have not even got a male toilet—such is their low expectation of those fathers. There is much to do, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts on securing this important debate.”

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