Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

MPs 'out of touch over families'

Parents and children
Parents want public services to be more family friendly

Eight out of 10 adults feel politicians are out of touch with the reality of family life, a survey says.

The poll of 2,024 adults for the Family Commission also suggests the majority of parents feel key public services should be more "family friendly".

The poll comes just weeks after Labour and the Conservatives set out their plans to help families.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said it was working with agencies to make services more family friendly.

The research is being released mid-way through the Family Commission's inquiry into modern family life in Britain. It is due to report fully in September.

'Heart-searching'

It says families need to be offered better support before they hit "rock bottom".

The report says: "We have been consistently told by families that help is still not accessible until they hit crisis point, with earlier cries for help seeming to fall on deaf ears."

"So, the answer is not to roll back the state leaving families to sink of swim by themselves."

Instead public services needed to "better understand" families and get behind them by "building on their strengths", it said.

The research suggests job centres and local councils were the least welcoming for families, while 17% said no public services were "family friendly".

Just over a quarter named childcare as family friendly and just under a third said hospitals were.

It is all the more important that public services are flexible and welcoming
Ed Balls
Children's Secretary

Some 40% in the survey said GPs' surgeries were family friendly, while 45% said schools were.

The respondents wanted more evening and weekend opening and less complicated and more accessible services.

More than four in 10 wanted more after school activities for children and people available to give help and advice when it is needed.

Chairwoman of the Family Commission Esther Rantzen said: "There are some heart-searching questions to be answered by politicians, and by professionals working with families.

"Why are politicians felt to be out of touch with the reality of family life? Why aren't schools, GPs and hospitals more family friendly?

"Why aren't services accessible at times when parents can use them, in a form parents can understand?"

'Welcoming'

She added: "If we are to provide the support families need, we must tackle the questions posed by our survey results. Because at the moment, as a society, we are clearly not putting children first."

Mr Balls, due to speak at the Family Commission, said: "These are tough times for many families, who are holding down jobs to make ends meet as well as bringing up children and often caring for older relatives too.

"So it is all the more important that public services are flexible and welcoming, as the Family Commission says.

"That's why in our Families and Relationships Green Paper, which we published in January, we announced a joint initiative with the independent Family and Parenting Institute to help all public services to become more family friendly."

The commission heard that long working hours put a strain on family life and that flexible working, though good, needed to be accessible to fathers and the less wealthy.

The role of fathers was changing, it found, with more stay at home fathers looking after children.



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