Iain Duncan Smith promises to 'champion' families and marriage

Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith will say much of current spending is being directed at the wrong targets

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The government has promised to "champion" marriage and families in an effort to reduce social breakdown.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said policy had "cloaked neglect of the family under the veil of neutrality".

He pledged investment to ensure troubled households get more support, rather than "shrugging our shoulders".

Mr Duncan Smith is urging businesses, councils and voluntary groups to help support families.

The government's Social Justice: Transforming Lives report promises to reverse the "couple penalty in the welfare system" and provide relationship support "acting early to keep families together".

'Champion'

It suggests that "children tend to enjoy better life outcomes when the same two parents are able to give them support and protection throughout".

The report says 28% of children in lone-parent families live in relative poverty, compared with 17% for those for "couple families".

It adds: "The government believes that investing in support to stabilise vulnerable families is the best starting point for tackling disadvantage and poverty.

"We are determined to encourage, protect and support families of all shapes and sizes, and to champion their importance to individual communities and to society more widely.

It promises to "help people move to positions where they can replicate as closely as possible the security provided by a family unit, without being hampered by excessive prescription and bureaucracy".

The government says it wants to see "more stable families - an increase in the number of families staying together, and conversely a reduction in divorce and separation rates, especially where children are involved".

This will be seen as the clearest indication yet that the government will support traditional households in its policies.

'Severe consequences'

Launching the report, Mr Duncan Smith said: "When families are strong and stable, so are children.

"We know that children raised by parents reporting high relationship quality and satisfaction tend to have higher levels of wellbeing, while intense conflict between parents has been shown to be detrimental to children's outcomes.

"And when families break down, the consequences can be severe. That means we have to get behind stable families, not shrug our shoulders when they fall apart.

"But in recent years government has been sending out the message that stable families don't matter.

"It has cloaked neglect of the family under the veil of neutrality, failing to invest in the prevention of breakdown and introducing rules and institutions - such as the couple penalty in the tax credit system - that made it more worthwhile for couples to live apart than to stay together.

"Today we are sending out a clear message that stable families do matter."

He added: "And at the heart of this, it means emphasising the Government's support for marriage - we are clear in this strategy that marriage should be supported and encouraged."

Mr Duncan Smith announced the setting up of a scheme to stop social breakdown.

The "early intervention foundation" is expected to involve City firms and local authorities investing in projects.

It follows the recommendations of Labour MP Graham Allen, who carried out a review of early intervention in social problems for the coalition.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4Children, welcomed the announcement, saying: "We know that the most effective help comes early and should support families to find long-term solutions to their problems."

Mark Molden, chairman of the Care For The Family charity, welcomed the government's comments, saying: "Every family is unique and all families experience challenging situations as well as good times but if you had to choose one family set-up that works best for the children involved, research consistently shows that, wherever possible, it is better for children to be raised within the context of a loving family with two parents who are married to one another."

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