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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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.