THE BLOG

Five Ways the Next Government Can Make Life Better for Families and Carers

18/09/2014 11:23 BST | Updated 17/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In August I gave the coalition government's record on family policy a C-. Definitely room for substantial improvement.

So as party conferences take place this autumn (albeit in the shadow of the Scottish referendum), what could the next government do to make life easier for families and carers?

A baby boom and an ageing population mean that more families need childcare and/or eldercare services but public spending cuts mean fewer places and less support while families pick up caring themselves or rising bills for care. Women and families have borne the brunt of cuts in services and financial support, and women aged 50-75 are increasingly being expected to care for older and younger relatives and work at the same time.

This squeeze on families is regularly reported to Good Care Guide by parents and carers finding it harder to balance work and care. Childcare services for example have not responded to the changing world of work where many parents' hours are no longer 9-5 and contracts are often zero hours.

I would urge the next government to be bold and ambitious for families. Supporting children in the early years and enabling women to work are two key building blocks for a national prevention strategy.

But the next government also needs to think 'all ages' - families increasingly are four or five generations and family policy needs to reflect the reality of our ageing population, rather than just a two dimensional parents/children approach. Families need action across the life course and for the whole family.

So in the spirit of ambition, here are five proposals:

1) Developing universal childcare and social care - this needs to be properly funded and won't be cheap but it will have a huge payback to families and our wider society. There are lots of ways to pay for universal care from national insurance and income tax to pension tax relief or a wealth/estate tax. It's about fair tax paying for fair care and sharing the costs across society - rather than some families being faced with a 'dementia tax'.

2) Transforming workplace culture so that the right to flexible working really does become the norm for all, including parents and carers. This needs to be coupled with more recognition by employers of grandparents and men in caring roles with proper grandparental and paternity leave policies.

3) Introducing an entitlement to 'adjustment leave' to help family members including carers and grandparents who are working to take time out to deal with a family crisis. Often it's these emergencies which make working and caring difficult. Government could legislate for this swiftly and it would be a really popular step forward.

4) Supporting a range of housing measures would help families to lead better, more independent lives - from building more homes to creating more options for older people and encouraging downsizing and homesharing. The increase in multigenerational households with three generations living together under one roof reflects the housing, care and income pressures on families.

5) Promoting intergenerational equality - tackling the housing crisis is a key step to helping younger families get a home. Working longer needs to be accompanied by fair taxes on older workers and on wealth and real apprenticeships for young people. Universal care at the start and the end of life would also reduce pressure on grandparents and share the costs fairly.

Which party will put families and all generations first? The answers will become more evident in the next three weeks.