Archive | June, 2011

Playing Happy Families

23 Jun

"That's it, sweetie. Pin down daddy's wrist so he can never ever leave"

Following David Cameron’s announcement last weekend that people should stigmatise deadbeat dads, I’ve been wondering how I can do my bit to help.

Cameron declared that “runaway dads” should have “the full force of shame” heaped upon them by society. Well, I’m part of society – how can I join in, Dave? Maybe I could sneer at them in supermarkets. Perhaps I should cross the street to avoid them. Or boo at them, panto-style. Or befriend them on Facebook just to ‘Poke’ them incessantly. Well, that would be annoying, but probably not sufficiently stigmatising.

The thing is, even before Cameron’s speech, fathers who abandoned their kids weren’t exactly celebrated members of society anyway; there was no Deadbeat Daddies national day of celebration or dedicated Runaway Dad card section in Clinton’s (though Moonpig does a good range).  So our PM’s words were no step towards enlightenment.

It was a pointless, empty-gesture statement, and one of those statements that you can’t dispute without coming across as evil, nutty or lacking common sense –  in this case, as someone who sides with negligent dads, and against abandoned children and single mothers. Rather like Cameron’s accompanying comment on tax breaks for married people.

In his message on Sunday, the PM reiterated proposals to “recognise marriage in the tax system, so as a country we show we value commitment”. There it is again: the statement you can’t disagree with because doing so would suggest you don’t want us as a country to show we value commitment. If you aren’t 100% on board with what Cameron’s saying, then you are implying that our nation should endorse flakiness. But at the risk of seeming to champion a commitment-phobic Britain, let’s question the PM’s policy of marital tax breaks.

If you’re in your twenties, broken marriages were a reality for many of your classmates back in school. Divorce rates in the UK jumped in the eighties and early nineties. 1994 still holds the record for highest rate of divorces per thousand married couples since records began.

For our generation, divorce was ubiquitous enough for it to be a key childhood truism that it’s probably better for your parents to be happily separated than constantly fighting but together. We grew up with the knowledge that marriage in itself doesn’t guarantee a stable home environment and that there are plenty of successful family frameworks out there that don’t conform to the cookie-cutter template of a married mummy and daddy and 2.4 children (or today’s average of 1.7).

Marriage ban

Twenty-somethings are increasingly opting not to wed

Equally, unmarried cohabiting is the growing norm for couples in their twenties, as the Daily Mail perpetually laments. Marriage rates are falling, and people who do wed are doing so later. The average age for first-time brides and grooms are 29.9 and 32.1 respectively.

A whole swathe of the population has grown up shunning the notion that ‘marriage’ is a synonym for ‘stable relationship’. So, why oh why does Cameron want to switch reality for ideology, and mould family structures into a prescribed format using financial incentives? His policy would mean, in effect, that an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship gets less reward than compulsive divorcees of the Ross-from-Friends kind, who skip from one marriage to the next.

It’s not even much of a bribe for marital commitment: the tax break you’d get once you’ve tied the knot works out at less than £3 a week. It’s the Tories’ attempt at a cost-effective, quick-fix social scheme: happy families for the price of a Happy Meal.  And like a Happy Meal, it sounds less promising on closer inspection of its contents.

Luxmy Gopal


David Cameron: careers adviser

6 Jun

Dave is here for all your career needs

Are you in your twenties? At uni? Approaching the end of your degree course? Already graduated but yet to find full-time work? If you answered to any two of the above, then, like me, you may be feeling apprehensive about the gaping void ahead.

But to those in my situation, sharing my concerns about our collective future – relax: the government has it all worked out.

If you weren’t calmed by Ed Miliband’s appearance on BBC Breakfast News on May 25, when he talked about tackling youth employment, don’t worry – his appearance unsettles everyone. If you feared that Ed’s proposal to solve youth unemployment with a banker’s tax was as plausible as Eric Pickles becoming the face of Weight Watchers, then let the coalition reassure you.

Think back to the heady post-election months when Prime Minister David ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron had a plan. And he called it ‘Big Society’. Those two little words may make your stomach lurch, but they were our man Dave’s solution to every problem Britain ever had.

Dave’s Big Plan

In Autumn 2010, Dave used the Big Society concept to suggest a great alternative to actual jobs – graduates could just work for free. Young people jobless after education could busy themselves with volunteering, work placements and internships. The latest addition to Cameron’s strategy was his £60million initiative to combat rising youth unemployment by creating work placements in private firms, launched on May 11 this year.

Brilliant. Employers get a free workforce of invaluable skilled graduates – a godsend, given that everyone’s feeling the pinch and that some services’ budgets are so squeezed they’re practically asphyxiated. University-leavers gain valuable experience to put on their CV and develop new skills. A win-win situation.

Which way to Cameron's careers advisory office?

Except that it isn’t. Here we are, an academic year later, and many of us – due to finish our course with no job lined up – have spotted a tiny flaw: you can’t live off your CV. A plumped up CV on its own can’t pay your bills or cover your rent or finance your commute. Solving unemployment by giving people unpaid work is like solving illiteracy by giving people picture books. It keeps us busily distracted without addressing the root of the problem

All in this together?

So what consolation is there for those of us graduating with uncertain work prospects and a mountain of debt? Well, I suggest that before we dismiss Dave as a careers adviser from hell, we utilise his Big Society plan more imaginatively. I propose that we nominate people to join in the working-for-free spirit advocated by the government.

For example, I would nominate Sir Fred Goodwin, former boss of Royal Bank of Scotland who walked away with a £500,000 annual pension and £3million lump sum, while the bank was bailed out by taxpayers. Recently revealed to have had an affair with a former colleague, I would put him forward for a work experience stint at a marriage counselling agency.

My second vote goes to Sir Philip Green, the retail mogul who allegedly avoided tax on a £1.2billion dividend last year. I would recommend him for an unpaid internship in Topshop.

Rupert prepares for his paper round

Next up, MP David Laws who claimed over £40,000 in accommodation expenses while actually renting his boyfriend’s flat for free. He should do a work placement at an estate agent.

Rupert Murdoch, who was reported to be responsible for tax evasion of millions of pounds in the late 1990s, should volunteer as a paperboy.

It might not solve the problem of youth unemployment, but it would certainly make me feel better, knowing that they were doing their part to prop up the Big Society.

After all, aren’t we all in this together?

By Luxmy Gopal