Love in the Whitehall Machine

The arguments we have with our children, partners, siblings and parents, the daily niggles, the dishwasher left unstacked, the pile of towels on the bathroom floor, are meaningless in the face of their love.

The arguments we have with our children, partners, siblings and parents, the daily niggles, the dishwasher left unstacked, the pile of towels on the bathroom floor, are meaningless in the face of their love. Family relationships matter, they provide meaning to our lives and are central to our identity. Love matters. And if it matters to us, to the way we live, and the people we share our lives with, it should matter to the people who provide education to our children, care for our older people, support us when we lose our jobs, and offer services to our local community.

So, what's love got to do with the Whitehall machine? Well it comes in many guises, it's not just about family and friends - as Jon Cruddas writes, 'love is the duty we have to others and the sense of self we get by living with other people'. Charities, churches and community groups are sustained by it. Hospitals, schools, and offices should run on it.

Policymakers have started paying attention to the role of love - essentially the bonds in good-quality relationships (as well as the costs of poor quality relationships) and we have seen the introduction of the Family Test and commitments to £7.5 million further funding annually for relationship support. But what if the policy was focused on you and your partner's relationship when one of you falls sick, rather than considering it as an afterthought; what if your family was at the heart of each and every policy choice?

Relate's new collection of essays highlighting the importance of relationships to policy launches this week, featuring contributions from politicians, charities and think tanks. The collection, 'What's love got to do with it? 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy', offers a broad range of perspectives on couple, family and social relationships. Together they form a powerful call to action to policymakers; bold, innovative, integrated ideas which broaden the scope of policy, and put family and couple relationships in a new light.

Work and love are intrinsically linked. We spend around 100,000 hours at work over our lifetimes; it structures our days, and we often spend more time with our colleagues than our mums. But wouldn't it be nice if we all loved our work and it was made more meaningful? Jon Cruddas suggests that apprentices, who are party to the wisdom of their mentors and engaged in valuable relationships, can rediscover the value of meaningful work. And it's not just young people who can benefit. A healthy relationship with your boss would turn those 100,000 hours into 100,000 happy hours. We can all benefit from good-quality workplace relationships, and suddenly all that toil is worth something.

I'm sure you can remember your first kiss, the first time you thought 'he's the one'. Your first feeling of love. What about your first sext? We all know the stereotype, the kids at the dinner table, eyes glued to the screen in their hands. It's not far from the truth, with young people now spending an average of 3 hours 36 minutes on their smartphones daily. And it's not because they have nothing to say. They just have a very different way of saying it.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough's essay examines the effect of all this technology on young people's relationships. Rapid technological expansion means that violent, abusive and pornographic content is only ever a few clicks away; the sending of sexual or naked photos is now part of a teenager's everyday life and mass connectivity has increased the potential for online bulling. However we mustn't forget the good in all this technology, the real-world relationships that can be built and sustained on digital platforms. Lord Willis calls for, as do many others in the collection, a good-quality, statutory, PHSE curriculum including Relationship and Sex Education which would prepare children and young people for these technologically-advanced relationship choices. And I couldn't agree more.

Whilst young people are experiencing relationship choices I couldn't have imagined in my teenage years, they are also increasingly likely to be growing up in a single-parent household; children who grow up with parents with good-quality relationships and low parental conflict - whether parents are couples or separated - enjoy better wellbeing, physical health, academic attainment and life-long stability. Vitally it's the quality, not the type, of relationship which matters. Whatever a couple can't agree on, they can definitely remember that they love their children. As the UK's largest provider of relationship support, working with thousands of couples, individuals and families each year, Relate knows that good-quality relationships are a key public policy issue. Creating conditions for safe, stable, and nurturing relationships is an unarguable necessity.

I'm delighted that my last formal duty with Relate is to launch these essays, setting out the compelling vision of a beating heart for the Whitehall machine and policy where people matter. I will shortly be taking up the role of CEO at the Samaritans, and I will be taking with me the commitment to good quality relationships really mattering - after all, this as important to Samaritans as to everyone else.

'What's love got to do with it?, a new collection of essays edited and compiled by Relate, the leading relationships charity launches today. For a full list of contributors and to download a copy of the collection, visit


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