On the Politics Show, Sunday 10 December 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Iain Duncan Smith MP, Former Conservative Leader
"The government's "narrow focus" on punishing fathers who don't fulfil their obligations to their children is "very knee jerk", former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told BBC One's Politics Show today.
"I've always said that there is a real purpose in trying to get fathers to take responsibility and keep them there. We do see in the figures by the way, that there has been an impact from the CSA, incompetent and failing as it is, it has had a marginal impact on fathers staying up to their responsibilities and actually beginning to stay with their relationship.
But I just want to say one thing which is very important, any narrow focus that the government is doing today is very knee-jerk."
Mr. Duncan Smith also dismissed a story that he had criticised gay couples as a "really silly, silly piece, which was an attempt to try and create a news story".
He said: "Well of course that's taking out of a three hundred thousand word document what I said. I said that in terms of what the effect they have on child rearing, that's the key point, and therefore how would they change or displace our figures, then there are so few who are bringing up children that either way, it's not going to make any change. It wasn't anything, no way a judgement about gay couples bringing up children.
If they're bringing them up well then well done, good luck to them and that's exactly what we believe in, structure and stability is important. This was a really silly, silly piece which was an attempt to try and create a news story, but nobody else thinks it's a news story."
Mr. Duncan Smith chairs the Conservative Party's Social Justice Policy Group, which publishes its interim report on Monday 11 December 2006.
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Chair of the Social Justice Policy Group, the former Conservative Party Leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and welcome to the Politics Show. Your findings seem pretty bleak about family life in the UK today.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: What we tried to do here and this comes out of discussions with mostly small community groups and charities that I've been talking to and each of them has said there are real problems in key areas and so we've looked at family break down, we've looked at debt, we've looked at drug and alcohol abuse, failed education and also, what Greg Clark is talking about, which is part of our report which is economic dependency and worklessness and the, the results of that are oblique in the sense that we see now a growing underclass of people who actually have in some sense almost given up hoping to get, to rise above it.
We see absolutely no social mobility any more and a child now born to a poor couple is less likely than at any time since the 1970s to come out of that. So we're trying to look at what are the causes of breakdown - not just money but also the way that people live their lives.
JON SOPEL: But just to clarify your views on gay families, because you're quoted in the Sunday Telegraph this morning as saying that gay families do not register on the Richter scale.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well of course that's taking out of a three hundred thousand word document what I said. I said that in terms of what the effect they have on child rearing, that's the key point, and therefore how would they change or displace our figures, then there are so few who are bringing up children that either way, it's not going to make any change.
It wasn't anything, no way a judgement about gay couples bringing up children. If they're bringing them up well then well done, good luck to them and that's exactly what we believe in, structure and stability is important. (interjection) This was a really silly, silly piece which was an attempt to try and create a news story, but nobody else thinks it's a news story.
JON SOPEL: Okay, a gay couple, loving and together is better than a couple with a guesting father and... (overlaps)...
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:... we haven't really studied all that, but the key point I would simply say is, what you want is people bringing up a child in a stable environment, with two parents trying desperately to make it better for them and quite frankly, heterosexual couples are clearly the issue here because they are by and large mostly bringing up the children that make the next generation, so that's the key issue about family break up, no judgements about individuals or their lifestyles.
JON SOPEL: You also found I think it's right to say that married couples stay together more than unmarried couples.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Yes again when we looked at this I thought that divorce would be an issue to look at, see what effect that was having. In fact we found divorce was pretty stable, it's high, but it's been pretty flat-lining for the last, fifteen, twenty years.
The big that really shook me was the figures for co-habiting couples and it was the break up levels. We found that co-habiting couples with children were breaking up at a rate of one in every two before the child was five, that means half of those co-habiting parents will be single parents before the child is five and the other point about that is, they are the biggest rising group in childrearing at the moment. Far faster in increase than anything else and that's why we're looking a little bit at that.
JON SOPEL: Okay, so should it be the policy of the next Conservative government to encourage marriage as a point of policy.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I'm not dealing with policy right now. We will come to that in the next few months.
JON SOPEL: Important question, though...
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I know it's an important question Jon and I'm not shying away from it, but I just want to put a few things in context here. The report at the moment is trying to look at the connections, what I call the cycle of dependency and break down and family life is critical, we do know that children from a broken home, particularly in these difficult poverty stricken areas, they are something like 75% more likely to fail in education and that leads to problems with drug addiction and failure and dependency. Now all I'm saying is, marriage is at the heart of that, how we relate to that, have we undermined it and we're looking at that, and you find that we think that we have... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: (overlaps) I feel. I feel I've got to push you because you've given some very stark statistics.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Yeah.
JON SOPEL: about the difference between unmarried couples and married couples and the chances for children born to the two different types of relationship. Shouldn't it be the policy then of the Conservative government to encourage marriage?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I think it should be the policy of any government to support and celebrate the things that are successful that help our children do well in life.
JON SOPEL: Why don't you just say yes?
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Hang on a second. And what we find, and this is the point of the report, we're looking at what's gone wrong. We will come forward with policy proposals. I personally believe that family life has at its heart married life and married life has been undermined by the present government, quite considerably both in tax and benefits. But there's more to it than just that. To say that would be to be very one-dimensional. You have to also look at what's happening beyond marriage in terms of co-habitation.
Why have so many people chosen to do that? Why is the break down level of that so high and what's the effect that's having on kids outcomes? So that's really what we're doing and so when we come forward with policy, my point about it is this, that we're going to look at each and every one of these six areas and say they have to be tackled together because you can't just leave them alone.
Let me give you one example, it's very important - debt. One of the biggest issues on that study was that people are scared stiff of debt. We know now we have the highest levels of debt. We also know that debt, families in debt are more likely to break up, so you're in to the spiral of break-up, from break-up they're more likely to fail at education and thus go in to drugs and alcohol, so that's the key that I'm talking about. (interjection and overlaps)
JON SOPEL: I just wondered whether there's a philosophical inconsistency here in that you've said yourself, you didn't get drawn on the policy, but that you believed that marriage should be encouraged and that via laws or tax relief or whatever.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: (overlaps and unintelligible)...
JON SOPEL: But when it comes to other aspects of social policy you seem to believe that it should be left to volunteering, to the non state sector, you know. You talk about the war on child poverty being able to be won if government gets off the back of the armies of compassion and helps them to succeed as though government is a barrier.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well, the key thing is the relationship between government and the voluntary sector. I've spent the last three years, since I set up the centre for social justice, trying to work with small community groups and charities around Britain and you saw some of the pictures in Gallowgate, in Easterhouse, in Moss Side. We are in connection now with so many.
And what they told me is they can do so much more and their worry and fear is that when government moves in, it targets and directs them and breaks what they're trying to do. They tend to look at a person in terms of their life, not this is drugs and that's broken families (interjection)...
JON SOPEL:... voluntary organisations saying, we don't want that.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Yeah, but of course, you're talking to the heads of big voluntary organisations. There is a bit of a break here between the small and the big. You know, the small make up 85% of most of the work that goes on in the community. But they actually take a share of only about 5% of the money and here's the key. We're looking at ways to actually get these people able to do more, without actually directing or targeting.
The key thing that I find when I go to these broken communities Jon, this is critical, is that the terrible deprivation is often relieved by the most wonderfully inspiring people who are doing it from small groups, who are busy doing it and don't raise money and really struggle. Now we've got to find some way of not taking them over, that's my point, about seeing a flowering, like we would for small businesses, giving them the opportunity to do more to mend that break down.
JON SOPEL: Well let's just talk about one area where the government wants to do something and that's over fathers not facing up to their responsibility with the Child Support Agency - of naming and shaming those who fail to pay maintenance, do you support that.
IAIN DUNCAN-SMITH: I've always said that there is a real purpose in trying to get fathers to take responsibility and keep them there. We do see in the figures by the way, that there has been an impact from the CSA, incompetent and failing as it is, it has had a marginal impact on fathers staying up to their responsibilities and actually beginning to stay with their relationship.
But I just want to say one thing which is very important, any narrow focus that the government is doing today is very knee-jerk. I simply say look, let's take this whole argument, the report of three hundred thousand words, which shows breakdown and I'll give you one stark statistic which absolutely shakes me.
A typical prisoner today is twenty eight years old, it's a man not a woman, women are not a product of crime. He is going to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, three quarters of them absolutely addicted. Mental health problems, very major mental health problems. Reading age of a child of ten. Numerate age of a child of ten. And they will also, absolutely come from broken homes.
Now, we know who's going to be the next criminals. If we don't do something about it now, that dis-functionality is going to break all of our communities.
JON SOPEL: All right. Iain Duncan Smith, thank you very much indeed.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH IAIN DUNCAN SMITH
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.
NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.
Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.
This is the last Politics Show for the autumn series - we return again on Sunday 14 January 2007, 12:00 GMT- in the meantime, from us all... have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
Let us know what you think.
The Politics Show Sunday 10 December 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
You can reach the programme by e-mail at the usual address or you can use the form below to e-mail the Politics Show.
You will be returned to the Politics Show website after submitting the form.
Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.