Ed Miliband at Labour's conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's family policy needs to move beyond just supporting mothers

We should actively encourage fathers and grandparents and ensure that they too have the social support to engage directly in the care of children.

For years, the backbone of Labour’s family policy has been to support mothers in their role as parents and to support them into work, in order to lift families out of poverty: a mix of parenting support programmes for mums and childcare. These are vital and always will be, but we have reached the limit of this approach. It is expensive and the money has run out. Jon Cruddas and Labour's Policy Review are looking at expanding this approach by looking for other resources in children’s lives – the social capital that is potentially available to children, such as fathers, grandparents, extended family and community.

Much research has been undertaken that shows the well-being and resilience of children is strongly linked to their stock of social capital: well connected children do better. They are surrounded by constantly available support in order to deal with both immediate difficulties and as they step into the worlds of work and of parenting.

On 6 March, Labour’s Policy Review organised a symposium on family policy and assembled a number of radical thinkers to come up with ideas about this "whole family" approach to policy making. Shadow ministers Lucy Powell, Lisa Nandy and Liz Kendall were involved and David Lammy and Harriet Harman also spoke.

If social capital, rather than just money, is going to be a resource we depend on, then that requires a pretty major development in our perspective. First, we must see families as more than only mothers caring for babies and children. And second, we have to look at how all those who also have parental roles – including fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers - support each other in families.

The singular maternal approach to parenting that is considered the norm has been shown to be a short-term historical blip dating back to the Industrial Revolution. Human parenting has been characterised for the vast majority of human history as a highly collective activity, where mothers have shared the care of infants, from day one, with a wider family group, often, but not always, including men. All members of the human family have evolved to fit this pattern of care. Mothers depend on substantial support, particularly in the first years of a child’s life. Fathers undergo hormonal changes when close to pregnant mothers and babies and these trigger patterns of caring behavior and a desire to stay closer to the children. And most importantly, babies have evolved to need and thrive on multiple attachments within a family group, the foundation for their future existence in a social world. Babies are remarkably good at reading individuals in their families and the relationships between them.

Support programmes for families have consistently been shown to be more effective when they engage with not just one carer, but with the caring group. The world’s leading researchers in this field, Phil & Carolyn Cowan, are currently working with Family Action and the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships to demonstrate that support for families specifically focusing on the quality of the couple relationship gets better outcomes. That’s because it works along the grain of how our parenting has evolved.

The way we parent changes depending on our environment and has always done. With the education of women making women vital to our economy, with the lack of war that takes men out of households, with the internet again breaking down the division between work and home, with fathers routinely attending the birth of babies and undergoing a much stronger bonding experience, we are entering a new era of family life. Families are changing and policy must do its best to catch up.

Over the last 30 years, the focus of building social capital has been the creation of networks of mothers that operate outside families. This has been right and will continue so long as mothers are deprived of the considerable support they need within the family during the early years. But as Jon Cruddas has made clear, we must widen this approach and actively encourage fathers (and grandfathers) and ensure that they too have the social support to engage directly in the care of children. As David Lammy has pointed out, we need much higher expectations of men when it comes to looking after children. We need to start thinking "Mums and Dads" instead of just "Mumsnet" or "Netmums".

We need to start at the beginning, in maternity care. I presented a project in Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Maternity Assist, where a digital extension of local maternity care is being developed that defaults to engaging with fathers and other family members – mothers can nominate as many key supporters as they wish to receive information and advice from the maternity service. Parenting support programmes should engage with the parenting group, not just a "primary carer" because that gets a better result.

At the heart of the matter is child development, which is the foundation of Labour’s Policy Review on families. We know that attachment between child and adults is the key to child wellbeing, influencing how the brain develops. We have to learn how multiple attachments work for babies and how a child’s relationship with different people in the family depends substantially on how the group operates and on the health of other relationships within the group. The idea of a "primary attachment" that needs supporting, and then "secondary" and other "lesser" attachments being left to look after themselves, is a profound misunderstanding of how things work in a collective environment. The relationships (in the plural) that a baby and child forms with close carers form the essence of their humanity. We need to support and build these. And not just because we have run out of money, which happens to be the case, but because that is the best thing we can do for our children in the 21st century.

Duncan Fisher is the co-founder of the Fatherhood Institute 

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.