So it seems the government has decided to throw a little more money at Britain’s Mums and Dads. It has just announced £6.5 million in funding for seven voluntary organisations working with separated parents.
The projects selected for largesse include co-parenting classes aimed at teenagers; a mediation project for lower income parents in South Yorkshire; and an internet-based family therapy service for separating couples focused on parenting. The latter will be hosted by relationship charity Relate, that venerable organisation once known as the Marriage Guidance Council.
According to the government, this new funding drive will reach around 280,000 couples. It will be followed, they say, by a second round of funding as part of an initiative “dedicated to supporting separated families, and represents a substantial increase in funding for out-of-court support for separated parents by the government.”
Naturally, the announcement was accompanied by well-honed soundbites. How about this one from Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb?
“Research shows children fare better if parents work together. So we are working with the voluntary sector to try out new ideas and funding innovative projects to see what best helps parents – from all walks of life – to put their differences aside for the sake of the children. Overall, we are investing £20 million to support parents going through a separation to do the best for their children.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In November last year, the government unveiled Sorting Out Separation, a much ballyhooed web app aimed at separating parents. Mr Webb told us at the time:
“Parents working together is in the best interests of the children, and more collaboration helps minimise the impact of separation on them.”
Noble sentiments, and I’m sure all seven of the projects receiving funding are worthy and well-intentioned ones, but there is a bottom line here, and that is, as ever, money. Six million pounds is not much at all on a national scale – in fact it is small change. Even £20 million does not buy a great deal when it comes to an entire country’s worth of unhappy families.
When we hear of these initiatives we are, no doubt, supposed to think ‘hurrah ffor the government, finding all that money to help hardworking families!’. And forget to remember, of course, that this same government has removed legal aid for all but a tiny minority of family law cases. Sixty-four years after the introduction of legal aid, just a couple of years after the National Health Service, we now live in a Britain in which millions cannot afford – and never will be able to afford – professional legal advice. Instead, when they find themselves entangled in an acrimonious divorce or a turbulent child custody case, they are expected to content themselves with the scattershot ministrations of well-intentioned, patchily funded charities. I don’t call that a fair exchange.