It’s great to be here and to have this chance to say a huge thank you on behalf of the whole country for all that you do supporting families in Britain.
Because of the work of organisations like Relate, Marriage Care, OnePlusOne and the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, there are thousands of couples today who have stuck together and overcome the pressures that could have pushed them apart.
There are thousands of children who have renewed self-esteem and hope for the future because of your support in the toughest of times.
And for families where break-ups have been unavoidable, time and again your support has helped to make the fall-out as painless as possible.
What you do is not just vital for the individuals and the families involved, it’s vital for the whole country.
Today I want to explain why families matter so much - and I want to talk about my commitment as Prime Minister to do everything we can to support family life in Britain today.
Why families matter
For me, nothing matters more than family. It’s at the centre of my life and the heart of my politics.
As a husband and a father I know how incredibly lucky I am to have a wonderful wife and to have had 4 amazing children.
But in loving my family, and in reflecting on my own upbringing, I’ve also learned something important about the way that family and politics are inextricably linked.
Long before you get to the welfare state, it is family that is there to care for you when you are sick or when you fall on tough times.
It’s family that brings up children, teaches values, passes on knowledge, instils in us all the responsibility to be good citizens and to live in harmony with others.
And so for someone from my political viewpoint who believes in building a stronger society from the bottom up, there is no better place to start than with family.
As Ferdinand Mount argued in The Subversive Family, all those in history who have wanted to remake society altogether – whether on the extreme left or the extreme right - have tried to destroy the family.
Because those who want an all-powerful state can’t stand the idea of family getting in the way.
The family with its values, loyalties and love is too great a rival.
Because in many ways, it’s the family where true power lies. So for those of us who want to strengthen and improve society, there is no better way than strengthening families and strengthening the relationships on which families are built.
Whether it’s tackling crime and anti-social behaviour or debt and drug addiction; whether it’s dealing with welfare dependency or improving education outcomes - whatever the social issue we want to grasp - the answer should always begin with family.
Why politicians shy away from talking about family
Now I know that sometimes politicians shy away from talking about the family. I understand that. We fear being judged. So let me be clear. I know that I am far from the perfect father and husband. And I’ll never pretend otherwise.
We also fear being seen to judge others. So when we talk about the importance of helping couples stay together - let’s also be absolutely clear about the truly inspirational single parents in our country who do an amazing job bringing up their children.
And, indeed, let’s also be clear that there are some couples for whom splitting up is the right thing in the circumstances, however difficult the decision.
In addition, there are also cases of domestic violence where what matters is making sure people are safe, rather than keeping a family together.
But we should never let this stop us saying loudly and proudly that strong families matter.
From health and education outcomes to job prospects, there is powerful evidence that a strong family unit can have a huge impact on improving the life chances of our children.
And then of course there’s the economic cost of relationship breakdown.
While the emotional and social costs cannot be fully measured, estimates suggest relationship breakdown costs our economy as much as £44 billion every year.
So I think it’s absolutely right that government should do everything possible to help support and strengthen family life in Britain today.
And doing that means asking ourselves some key questions.
First, how can we help families come together? How can we help people to make a lasting commitment to each other? And how we can support that commitment for all couples?
Second, how can we help families stay together? How can we help families financially? How we can help families have more time to spend together? And how we can help families with some of those moments that can put extra pressure on relationships – like the challenges of parenting?
And third, how can we help troubled families - and those children who don’t even have families at all.
The answer to every one of these questions can have a profound impact on family life, on the life chances of our children and on the country we are building for their future.
So let me take each in turn.
Helping families come together
First, helping families come together.
We all know that a strong family begins with a strong relationship between two loving people who make a deep and lasting commitment to each other.
That’s one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about supporting marriage.
I’m not saying that marriage is the only way to make such a commitment. And we certainly shouldn’t judge people who feel marriage isn’t for them. But neither do I think we should shy away from standing up for marriage in our society.
I think it’s important that government sends a strong signal that we back marriage. That’s why I think it’s wrong that Britain has been one of the few countries in the world that hasn’t properly recognised marriage in the tax system.
And it’s right that this government is changing that.
Let me be clear. I don’t think that this will suddenly mean people deciding to get married for a few extra pounds. That’s not what it’s about.
It’s about sending a clear message that in Britain we recognise and value the commitment that people make to each other. And that’s just as vital whether the commitment is between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and another woman.
I believe in the right of marriage for all people.
As I’ve said, when people’s love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change.
So we’ve changed it.
And just as the state should not deny someone the chance to get married because of their sexuality, so neither should we automatically deny a couple the chance to adopt because of their sexuality.
When there are children in need of a loving family, and gay couples with so much love to give, we should not allow prejudice to stand in the way of progress for our children or for our wider society.
That sends a powerful message about who we are as a country in the modern world.
We’re going to address another inequality in marriage too. The content of marriage registers in England and Wales has not changed since the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. At the moment, they require details of the couples’ fathers, but not their mothers. This clearly doesn’t reflect modern Britain - and it’s high time the system was updated.
So I have asked the Home Office is to look at how we can address this too.
Helping families stay together
As well as helping families come together, we also need to help families stay together.
We know that one of the biggest strains in a relationship can come from problems with money. And the biggest cause of such problems is not having a job. So this government is offering more support than ever before to help people get jobs.
Our economy is growing faster now than at any point in the past 6 years, with 2 million more people in work, over 780,000 fewer adults on out-of-work benefits and the largest annual fall in youth unemployment since records began.
But it’s not enough just to help hard working families earn more.
We also need to help them keep more of what they earn – so they can give their families the chance of a better, more comfortable life.
Today all but the very highest earners can earn £10,000 before paying any income tax.
That’s been a tax cut for 26 million people, and, in addition, taken more than 2 million people out of tax altogether.
Now we’re helping with the costs of childcare – including the introduction of tax-free childcare for the first time ever. This alone could be worth up to £2,000 per child per year for almost 2 million families.
We are also increasing childcare support for low-income families through an additional £600 million through Universal Credit.
Universal Credit will also ensure that it always pays to work, putting an end to the completely unjust system we inherited, where after the withdrawal of benefits and taxes some low-income families would keep just 4p of every extra pound they earn.
But helping families isn’t just about money. It’s about time too.
Too often, all the complications of life make it difficult for families to spend time together. Perhaps one partner is working in the day, the other partner at night. Or perhaps by the time they’ve taken their children to school, organised playgroups, gone out to work then come home and fixed the children’s food, put the children to bed - and perhaps helped to care for an elderly relative too - there’s simply no time for each other.
We’re trying to help by extending the right to request flexible working to every parent with a child under 18.
But there’s no doubt that helping families stay together is about understanding the moments that put extra pressure on relationships. Like the birth of your first child – a moment of incredible excitement, but exhaustion and anxiety too. That’s why there should be relationship support in ante-natal classes – and that’s something we are starting to deliver.
It’s a striking fact that more parents split up in the first years after a child’s birth than at any other time.
So we’re introducing a system of shared parental leave, to enable mothers and fathers to share childcare during their first year as parents.
But parents don’t just need flexible leave, they need help and advice too. Health visitors are amazing because when you’re having a baby you want someone who can point you to the advice you need - anything from the nearest crèche, to how to breastfeed.
And it’s right that this support should include relationship advice too. So, as promised, we are increasing the number of health visitors by 4,200 and re-orienting them to support not just the mother and child, but the whole family.
And we are creating new guidance which will help them identify and support families dealing with relationship problems.
But helping families with children and parenting shouldn’t stop at childbirth. To take just one example - bringing up children in an internet age, you are endlessly worried about what they are going to find online. So we’ve taken a big stand on protecting our children online. We’re making family friendly filters the default setting for all new online customers, and we’re forcing existing customers to make an active choice about whether to install them.
And today we’re going even further.
From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.
Perhaps most significantly of all, we’re doing something else to help couples through the stresses and strains of a relationship. And that’s backing people like you - the skilled and incredibly dedicated counsellors who families turn to at their lowest ebb.
Through your work, our relationship support funding has an incredible impact, returning as much as £11.50 to the taxpayer for every pound spent. This is a fantastic investment for government to make.
So it’s right that even at a time when we are having to make further cuts to deal with the deficit, we should continue to prioritise and ringfence support for couple relationships.
Four years ago I increased funding for relationship support by 50% and pledged that this government would invest at least £7.5 million a year for 4 years.
Today, I can promise you that we will invest at least £7.5 million every year for as long as I am Prime Minister.
Backing families in Britain also means supporting those families who are not coping at all.
Maybe there is domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. Maybe there are drug or alcohol addictions. Maybe the children are playing truant and the parents have never worked in their entire lives. Maybe it’s all these things and more.
These families can cost us a fortune – in benefits, social workers and prison places. So some people ask: if these families already cost so much – why spend even more on them?
But that’s precisely the point.
These families need help. We can save huge chunks of that money if we get this right. And we can make a big difference to the lives of all those affected by these families. That’s why we set up the Troubled Families Unit led by Louise Casey.
Of course, some people said it wouldn’t work. That we couldn’t create an intervention that would help turn these families around.
But the results are clear.
More children going to school, fewer crimes, less anti-social behaviour - and more than 53,000 of these troubled families turned around.
There is no doubt that this programme is a success. And the reason?
In the past these families were getting visits from the police, from the social workers, from the local school - but there was no-one getting in there to understand the whole situation the family faced and to work with them in tackling the underlying problems.
That’s what we’re achieving. And we need to do more of it. So from next year I am expanding the programme further to reach an additional 400,000 troubled families over the course of the next Parliament.
And we will be setting out more details on this expansion tomorrow.
Those with no families at all
Putting family at the heart of government also means working hard to help those children with no families at all. Over 68,000 children are in care. And the outcomes for those children have not been good.
We were the first government to create a Pupil Premium to invest more money in the education of children from the poorest families – and, importantly, for children in care too.
But children in care need extra help. Too often they have been isolated in our education system, scattered across different schools without the support they need. So we’re changing that.
Now there’s a named individual responsible for supporting the education of all looked after children in each local authority area. The education attainment gap between looked after children and their peers is now closing at all key stages.
We’re also seeing fewer looked-after children with convictions or substance misuse problems, and a fall in the numbers of care leavers who are not in employment, education or training.
And today we are going further. State boarding schools are a hidden gem in our education reforms which are delivering consistently good results. They bring extra stability. Support from responsible adults. Pastoral care. And I think there’s a real opportunity for them to do more to help looked after children.
So we are now going to work with local authorities to get looked-after children priority access to state boarding schools.
But there’s something else we can do – that is perhaps the most powerful intervention of all. And that is to help more children in care find a loving a family through adoption.
Of course, putting a child in the care of adoptive parents is a huge responsibility. It’s vital that we have the right checks and processes – and we will always do so.
But in recent times too many loving couples have been put off by a system that is too difficult, too bureaucratic and too time-consuming.
A system that has so agonised over finding the perfect match – including the perfect ethnic match – that far too often it has failed to find any match at all.
Frankly, people have sometimes found it easier to fly half-way round the world to adopt than wait for the case system at home to finish agonising about placing black children with white families and vice versa.
So I’ve made it a priority to sort this out. We’ve swept away the ridiculous rules that stop children being placed in a loving home. Rules on race, age and family circumstances. If you are the right person to bring up a child, you should be allowed to do it.
We’re investing £17 million in the voluntary sector to more than double the capacity of voluntary adoption agencies to recruit adopters and a further £200 million to reform and improve local authority adoption services.
We’ve created a one-stop shop for information and advice for potential adopters, a quicker but no less robust approvals process so that adopters can now be approved in just 6 months, and adoption activity days to help approved adopters find children to adopt.
We’ve made it easier for foster parents to become adoptive parents: again potentially making a big difference to getting more children fully adopted into secure and loving families.
And all this is starting to have some effect.
The new figures today suggest that adoptions rose by a quarter in the last year alone.
That’s a staggering increase, with the number of adopters recruited up by a third and the first ever decrease in the length of adoption process.
One couple to benefit is Jane and Shaun who are here today. Their child was born with foetal alcohol syndrome. She is blind and had been waiting for adoptive parents for 2 years.
But unlike those who were looking at her case on paper, thanks to our changes, Jane and Shaun got the chance to meet their child through an adoption activity day last September.
They felt an instant connection and were formally matched in November.
Their story is a moving reminder of just how powerful adoption can be – both for the children and for those couples who want a family and have so much love to give.
So we’re not going to stop here. People like Jane and Shaun are far more likely to consider adoption if they’re confident they can count on good support – not just in the early days, but years down the line if needed.
So we are going to create a new national Adoption Support Fund worth more than £19 million. And we are going to give adopters the same rights as birth parents when it comes to adoption pay and leave - and a new right for adopters to take leave from work to bond with a child prior to adoption.
I’m determined to do everything we can to unleash this adoption revolution in our country. So that more people like Jane and Shaun have the chance to adopt, and more children have the chance of growing up in a loving family.
So that’s my agenda on the family. Helping families come together, helping families stay together and helping children in troubled families or those with no family at all.
But to really drive this through, we need to change the way government does business.
So I am bringing all relationship support policy under one department – the Department for Work and Pensions - and giving the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith personal responsibility for delivering this.
At the same time, I want every government department to be held to account for the impact of their policies on the family.
The reality is that in the past the family just hasn’t been central to the way government thinks. So you get a whole load of policy decisions which take no account of the family and sometimes make these things worse. Whether it’s the benefits system incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work - or whether it’s excessive bureaucracy preventing loving couples from adopting children with no family at all.
We can’t go on having government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family.
I said previously that I wanted to introduce a family test into government. Now that test is being formalised as part of the impact assessment for all domestic policies. Put simply that means every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.
That’s my commitment to you – the people who do so much to help families stay together in our country.
Government on the side of hard-working families in Britain, and government on the side of those people like you who help so many of our families stay together every single day.
Together we will strengthen and support family life in Britain for our children and for generations to come.