In praise of…… Families!

Dr Fred Cook and Nurse Jill Dickinson (as was) celebrating 50 years of marriage yesterday

I’ve always been pleased to acknowledge that anything that I may have achieved in life can be put down to the family that I was born into and the one that I have helped build up during my lifetime.

I reflected on this yesterday when I skived off from door-knocking in Allerton & Hunts Cross (Sorry Fiona McBride!) and went to a family event in Aughton.

There I spent 7 hours with some of my nearest and dearest. It was an event to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my Cousin Jill to her husband Fred. I still find it incredible to think that we can possibly be celebrating an event 50 years ago which I was actually present at. I so vividly remember the event as many of Jill’s friends were attractive young nurses (as was she) and I was a very impressionable 16 year old! In fact it was the day that I became sweet 16 because it was on my birthday

There are always surprises. Who would have guessed that my cousin John would end up an accomplished ukulele player!?

Of course, most of the people who were present at that event are no longer with us. What was the senior generation at that event has morphed into my generation. We sat there looking at children and grandchildren mixing happily over the decades the oldest ‘child now approaching 50 and the youngest grandchild just 6 months old.

As with all families there were people who have drifted out of our orbit for a number of reasons. There was however a core of 4 cousins, who lived our early lives in tandem with each other because of the closeness of my Mum and her sister Joy. Until I was 11 my sister and I lived in London while my cousins lived in Maghull. However, at almost every holiday we came North or they came South.

My big sister, Ann, had to be interrupted. I suspect she had been telling Erica about some of my youthful indiscretions. Her husband, Alec, and 2nd cousin Jonathan seem to be trying to look elsewhere!

How 8 of us squeezed into the very small (with no bathroom) flat that we had in London now escapes me. The same when we came to Maghull where the house was only slightly bigger, but they did have a bathroom. What luxury! It must have been absolute chaos and a touch of ‘six in a bed at the old Pier Head’ but that is not what any of us could recall yesterday. What we remembered is the games and the fun and the love. Not all the time. There is apparently a cine-film of me throwing a tantrum which I am try to buy at any cost before it gets released to the World!

My cousins and I might have seemed a little smug yesterday. In many ways our feeling was that we have done our bit. We have brought our children into the World; they have done quite well and are bringing up their children in the same spirit with which we brought up ours. Above all we know that should anyone in our extended family need help, the family would be the first place we and they would turn for assistance.

In another 25 years we know that most of our generation will also have passed from this Earth and that our children will be the ‘senior generation’. We can hope that perhaps they will pass on stories at event about Grandpa Fred or cousin John just as we were able to yesterday.

So, what is the connection between my sentimental journey yesterday and my day-to-day life as a jobbing politician? It is a realisation that all the polices and programmes that I pursue and my Party pursues just must be family friendly. The family is still the basic building block of society. Many of the people who have problems have them exacerbated because they have no comfort blanket of a family to which they can turn for help. Loneliness, ill health, poor eating are all exacerbated by having no-one to turn to.

So many of the policies which have been pursued by politicians have caused problems for the family and therefore society as a whole. Those problems of ill thought out housing; poor transport and lack of child friendly policies have been hugely made worse by the actions of industry and commerce. Too many people in families are rarely able to get together as a family unit when Mum is on one zero hours minimum wage contract and Dad is on another. Too many people desperately struggle to provide family-based child care and can rarely do things as a family unit.

Take holidays as an example. In places across the whole of the Pennines families could have at least one week together because of wakes weeks. Here an entire town would shut down for a week. Excursion trains would pick them up on one Saturday take them to places like Blackpool and drop them off the following week and then go to the next town down the line. Now people who cannot get holidays in the ‘school holidays’ get fined if they take their children away on holiday during term time. What arrogance and nonsense. Its far more important for a family to get time together when they can afford it and they are allowed out from work than another two weeks in class.

So what changes would I make?

  • Dealing with that holiday problem by a more understanding system which differentiates between lazy parents who don’t care about school attendance and good parents who want to build their family and give children good memories for life.
  • Raise the minimum wage level to a level where parents do not need to have two full-time jobs to keep going but could survive on 1.5 jobs.
  • Proper legislation for those on zero-hour contracts and pretend self-employment such as that of UBER which allows both holiday pay and time off.
  • Planning policies which do not segregate our society but keeps families of different ages and different means together.
  • Greater support for families facing stress.
  • A decent home for every family and not living in hotels or substandard private sector accommodation.

How much would all this cost? Next to nothing. In fact, I think it would save money. Family breakdowns cost money for the health, education, social, police and other services. Invest in the family in the short-term and save a fortune on broken adults in the long-term. Will this ever happen? It will involve politicians and society as a whole thinking over a longer time frame than the next election. So, my guess is that we will find out where those pigs got wings before we get positive moves in the right direction.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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