“Some people would say this is not the right day to talk about our broken society. Well I don’t agree, I think when things like this happen it is right to stand back, to reflect and to ask ourselves some pretty deep questions about what has gone wrong in our society. And let me say at the outset this is not pointing the finger at one party or one Government, some of the things that have been going wrong in this country have been going wrong for years and for decades.
“Nor is it pointing the finger at one community or one city or at one town, people in Doncaster have suffered from this terrible crime just as people in other parts of our country have suffered from other crimes. And I think it’s important also as we go in to this election year to make sure we talk about social issues and social breakdown as well as economic issues and economic breakdown. I hope our economy is now recovering, I believe it is, but I believe that as that economy recovers and as we deal with our budget deficit we should also be asking in Britain how do we get a social recovery and how do we deal with our social deficit.
“Now, again, some people say that talking about the broken society is an overstatement, that it is somehow talking Britain down, that it’s being unfair on what’s happening in Britain today. Now, of course, there are many brilliant things in our society, think of the response that people have made to the earthquake in Haiti, think of the sense of community and neighbourliness people showed during the recent problems with the extreme weather. Think of the incredible thing our young people achieve in Britain today, there are many things to celebrate but I think it is also right to talk very frankly about how we mend our broken society and how we repair those parts that are most badly fractured.
“Because I would say look at the evidence; UNICEF didn’t say that Britain was quite a bad place to be a child, they didn’t say that it was one of the worst places to grow up they actually said it was the worst place in the developed world to be a child. And when we look at childhood we have, I’m afraid to say, more children growing up in households where nobody works than any other country in Europe. We have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than other countries in Europe, we have higher rates of family breakdown than other countries in Europe, we have the worst divorce rate in Europe.
“When we look at these pieces of evidence and we also consider that in the last decade that there are actually more people in deep poverty now than there were a decade ago and that actually they have less money than a decade ago, I think we have to sit up and think very seriously about this.
“And when we think about these terrible crimes, what has happened today in Doncaster, I don’t think it’s right every time one of these events take place to say that it is just some isolated incident of evil that we should look away from and forget about. Are we going to do that every time there is a Jamie Bulger or a Baby Peter or a Ben Kinsella or a Gary Newlove or what has happened in Doncaster today? We shouldn’t, we should ask what has gone wrong with our society and what we’re going to do about it.
“So what is it that’s gone wrong? Well some would say, and I would agree in part, that we don’t have a strong enough response to crime, that we tolerate too much criminal behaviour. Some would say that we’ve become too selfish, too greedy, it’s all about me and self gratification not about thinking of others and community and I would probably agree with that too.
“Some say, indeed I’ve said it myself, that there is a, if you like, a sort of spectrum of behaviour and incivility that goes from the very worst behaviour that we’re talking about today all the way through to anger and bad temper and bad behaviour in public discourse or on public transport and the rest of it, and that is true.
“But what I would say and what I believe most profoundly has gone wrong is one simple word and that is responsibility. I think we are in danger of becoming an irresponsible society and we need to make Britain a responsible society. So what’s gone wrong and how do we put it right?
“Well just consider this; consider the signals that we send people in Britain today. Consider the fact that we send a signal to couples that you’re worse off if you stay together and you’re better off if you separate. Consider the signal we send to the single mum who actually wants to go out and work and earn so that her family’s better off, we say we’ll take away over ninety per cent of what you earn. Think of the signal we send to the head teacher, exclude the difficult pupil, try to safeguard the education for those who want to get on and actually you’ll be disadvantaged and the appeals panel might put that child in back in your school and say you’ve done the wrong thing, think of that signal.
“Think of the signals we send to all of those people who work in public service, who I meet every time I do a public meeting, whether it is the social worker, the probation officer, the teacher, the doctor, the Police Officer, think of the signals we send when we say to them it is all about processes and targets and box ticking and spending time in front of a computer and not actually getting out there and delivering the vocation that you really went in to that profession to deliver.
“So we have got to change all these signals and we’ve got to put every single thing we do through a very simple filter. If it encourages irresponsibility we shouldn’t do it and if it encourages responsibility we should do it. So let us say to that head teacher you do what you think is right for discipline and order in your school, that we say to that Police Officer, social worker, teacher, probation officer we’re going to judge you on the results you achieve not endlessly second guess the processes you follow. That we’re going to say to that criminal if you commit a crime you won’t get early release because we’re going to abolish early release because if you commit a crime you should be properly punished.
“The signal we should send to the homeowner who wants to protect their house is it’s your right to do that and you shouldn’t be punished if you do so. If you intervene and try and stop a crime you shouldn’t be punished you should be rewarded. If you want to do the right thing helping in your community the health and safety rules and all the rest of it shouldn’t get in your way, we should help you and free you to do that.
“And let me just say something about the organisation that I think is the most important of all in fighting for a, and delivering, a responsible society and that is the family. I want the next Government to be the most family friendly Government we’ve ever had in this country and that is about everything we do to support families and it’s about supporting every sort of family. It’s about saying to parents you should have the right to request flexible working because parents suffer from not having enough time with their kids as well as not having enough money to spend with them. It’s about saying when a new child comes along you should be able to share the maternity leave and the paternity leave in whatever way you think is right for your kids.
“It’s about saying yes the state does have a role in helping you be a good parent, that’s why we’ve backed Sure Start, that’s why we’re going to focus it on the parents that really need it and that’s why instead of running down health visitors we’re going to increase the number of health visitors because everybody knows it’s when a child arrives that the pressure on the family is greatest.
“But I absolutely feel at my very core that recognising that relationships matter, that commitment matters and, yes, that marriage matters is something we should not say quietly but something we should say loudly and proudly. And to those who say that somehow supporting marriage is wrong let me take them on directly, let me fight back against this sense that we shouldn’t speak up for marriage.
“The arguments they make against recognising marriage in the tax system are basically four. They say that it’s unpopular, they say that somehow it is outdated, they say that it won’t work and then they go on, rather perversely, to say even though it doesn’t work it would be social engineering. Let me take each one of those in turn.
“First this idea that you shouldn’t do something because it’s not universally popular. Well frankly I don’t care whether it is popular or not, I care whether it is right or not. I believe it’s important to say that commitment matters, to say that relationships matter, to say that marriage is a good institution that we should back rather than undermine and that’s why I’m standing here, standing for office and wanting to build a stronger society.
“Now let’s take this argument that somehow it is outdated, that it is backward looking. What is so backward looking in a country where we have social breakdown and social problems of saying that committed relationships, encouraging people to come together and stay together is a bad thing? Of course it isn’t, it’s not outdated if you look around the European Union, if you look around the OECD, we’re almost alone in not recognising marriage in the tax system. And why do we think, why do we think that with our appalling record of family breakdown that somehow we are in the right position and everyone else is in the wrong position; we’re not, they’ve got it right and we have got it wrong.
“Now the next argument they make is that, of course, this won’t work. Now I don’t believe for a minute that people get married for money or that people will stay together if you give them a few more pounds here or a few more pence there, of course not. But look at the evidence that supports marriage. The fact is, and we can’t hide from this evidence, we should recognise it, that if you look at how many couples are still together when their child reaches its fifth birthday the fact is it’s only one in eleven married couples that have separated whereas with unmarried couples it is one in three. That is a pretty staggering difference.
“And this week evidence was produced to show that when it comes to how many couples are still together when your child reaches their fifteenth birthday ninety seven per cent of them are married couples. Now when you have evidence like that you can either just push it to one side and carry on as you are or you can say this is a good institution and one that we should support.
“Now let me take the last argument that somehow this is social engineering. Now the people who make this argument never seem to say that there’s anything social engineering about a benefit system that can reward people out of, who don’t want to work rather than work or that any of the other things that have gone wrong in our society are anything to do with the tax system and the benefit system. But I would simply say this; do I think we’d be a stronger society if more people came together and stayed together and committed to each other before they had children? Yes I do. Do I think we’d be a stronger society if more people chose to do that, if more people got married, if fewer people separated? Yes I do. Do I think that committed relationships really matter? Yes I do. All the evidence tells us that. All of our own knowledge and self knowledge recognises that.
“And the last thing I’d say is this; these people who are attacking me for backing marriage and backing marriage in the tax system all seem to be happily married themselves, why don’t they recognise that what is good for them is something that could be good for the rest of society too? Why are we so frightened of standing up and saying what we believe in? This election campaign is already in danger of boring people to tears and if it’s all about producing dossiers and posters and pamphlets and claim and counter claim we won’t get anywhere.
“But what we do need is people who stand up and say what their values are, say what they think, say what they care about and say how we can help to mend our broken society. Marriage is only one small part of that overall whole but let’s recognise how important families are, how important backing them really is and how we have produced, I think, the most family friendly manifesto that any party has ever backed. Can you do that without being four square behind marriage and saying it’s a good institution? I don’t believe you can and that’s what I’ve said what I’ve said today, that’s why I stand here today but above all thank you for coming and thank you for listening.”