The Sunday Telegraph - Ranil Jayawardena MP. It's time to put families at the heart of politics again

The following article by Ranil Jayawardena MP appeared in The Sunday Telegraph on 9th February 2020.

Families come in many different shapes and sizes, but what is true of all of them is that they are central to our lives. Yet too often, politicians don't see the impact their decisions have on families. A core principle all Conservatives share is that aspiration, ambition and hard work should be rewarded whoever you are, wherever you come from and whatever you believe in. Our mission now is to ensure that our values - of family and opportunity - are the foundation of this people's government.

We have made progress in this area: we've slashed income tax for 32 million people, ensuring they can keep more of what they earn. We have also delivered on our pledge to raise the tax free allowance to £12,500 and are supporting married couples by reducing their taxes, with more than 3.5 million couples already benefiting.

But this Government will go even further. We no longer accept that your life chances - and your family's life chances - should depend on which part of the country you grow up in. We are determined to spread opportunity to every part of the UK. That's why we are starting by establishing a £1 billion flexible childcare fund, to help hardworking parents manage both work and family commitments, particularly during school holidays, which can be difficult for working parents, and with breakfast and after-school childcare, too. We are also providing a new, simpler state pension that recognises the years spent at home raising a family, so that by 2030 more than three million women will be an average of £550 better off per year.

Yet there is always more to do. It was a genuine pleasure to read so many good ideas from across the party and to sit on the manifesto committee for the election. Our efforts to support families are hugely important - improving their quality of life and work-life balance so they can spend more time with their loved ones.

We must be flexible - and as a society we must revise the assumption that everyone has the same priorities and that equality means encouraging everyone to act in the same way. Such an attitude remains a significant barrier to familial equality. What works for one family may not work for another.

In fact, such outdated assumptions have led many parents to feel that staying at home to care for their children or their own parents is undervalued. This is wrong. The unpaid care they provide is worth more than £1 trillion annually to our economy. That is why we need to look at how we can better support them - committing to extending the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to one week, on top of the existing carer's allowance that helps people financially afford the time to care.

I know that many want us to go further in the tax and benefits systems, too, such as by reducing national insurance contributions to give working parents a boost in the first instance. Other issues won't be resolved overnight, but it is important to identify some of the challenges. For instance, single people without family responsibilities in the UK pay 8 per cent less tax than the OECD average, while single-earner married couples with two children pay 26 per cent more. We owe unpaid carers the utmost respect, for there can be no more important a job than looking after those who cannot look after themselves.

But this isn't about a yearning for the "nuclear" family in itself. It is simply a recognition of the familial support that extended, multi-generational, families have provided one another for decades. To recognise that many of the challenges we face today can be addressed by taking the best principles and aspirations of the past isn't old-fashioned, but ambitious.

So how can we better support those who look after their family? How can we help more people look after those they love? I'm listening. We are at a moment of huge national renewal and change. This is the dawn of a new era in the history of our country, one in which we begin to unite and level up opportunity cross the country - tackling crime, transforming the NHS, improving our education system and reviving our infrastructure.

At the heart of this is a determination to do all we can to better support people and their families. The Prime Minister has set out his vision that Britain should be the greatest place in the world to live and start a family. And I know we will deliver.

Ranil Jayawardena MP is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party.