20 October 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith speaks in Westminster Hall debate on Covid-19 support for children and families

Sir Iain Duncan Smith highlights the importance of getting the balance right between family life and government involvement to ensure children are brought up in stable families with both parents looking after them. 

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

It is a privilege to serve under your tutelage, Sir Christopher. It is always a privilege. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger). Sometimes when I listen to what he says in his speeches, I often think that I could have written them. Perhaps I did, I do not know, but then I realise that he used to write speeches for me as well. In a sense, we are a little too heavily joined at the hip. I promise that I will not embarrass him any more on that basis.

I fundamentally agree with everything he said, particularly with regards to the challenges. In a sense, much of what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), literally a neighbour of mine, says can be meshed together internally. There are ways through this, and I wish we could form some kind of common purpose in all of it rather than attacking each other. Too often, at the heart of these debates is not the question of left or right, but a big difference about whether people think we should intervene with Government or not.

To those assembled here, I make the point that we face real issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes mentioned the tax system. A good example of what happens when people get into government is that they immediately use the argument that we should not intervene because we show a bias towards one side. The UK has the worse tax system for families that wish to stay together. We have the worse system in Europe, particularly where a person in that family wishes to look after their children for a while. Every other major country in Europe has an allowance, and people can move their ​allowances across. In Germany, they have income-splitting which gives families an immediate balance, which is more expensive to be fair. But in France they have a marriage tax allowance form as well. We in the UK are alone in having not had one for a period, the Labour Government having taken it away. When I was in government, I sat arguing with the Chancellor—I did a lot of that when I was in government—about that very point. Finally, with the Prime Minister’s intervention, we reinstated the marriage tax allowance. However, it was done at such a measly and miserly level, and then hidden so deep in the documents, that nobody claimed it because they did not know it existed. The Government refused to let anybody know about it, until finally they told them about it. That is one of the problems we face with Government.

It is not a case of siding with one side or the other. If we get family life and the involvement of Government balanced, people will make their own choices; that is all I ever ask for. I know those choices will be, in the vast majority of cases, balanced, positive and constructive. Everyone out there, except for the exceptional minority, wants their family to be stable, and would prefer their children brought up with both parents looking after them all the way through their childhood. Government intervene in the wrong way and distort the nature of that decision, and then accuse everybody of asking them to intervene and take sides, but that is not the case.

I appreciate the comments about universal credit and, definitely, about universal support. Universal support, alongside universal credit, is critical in getting people help and assistance along the lines that the hon. Member for Walthamstow talked about. We should all be on the side of getting that rolled out.

Finally, on schools, we have a real problem at the moment. There is pressure on parents as a result of what is happening in our schools. Whole year groups are suddenly being sent home because one child is infected. That goes against all the evidence that children are not vectors to adults, but that it is the other way round. This situation is causing chaos in families up and down the land. There is a good organisation called UsforThem, which is made up of parents who are worried because they have had to leave work and go back home. That has caused real stress in families, and had a real effect on family break-up. It is also causing problems for children, more of whom need intervention and are now under protected schemes.

We need to think again about what in heaven’s name we are doing with our schools in relation to covid. The children are losing out massively, the parents are suffering dramatically, and if we do not get proper advice to schools, we will be buying ourselves a heap of problems down the road, in 10 years’ time. Schools are operating without clear advice on what they should do when children get covid, and they immediately send everybody home. That has to stop. We need to get a balanced view.

I end by saying that I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes’ speech. It was absolutely right; it is on the money. I will not repeat what he said, but I back every bit of it; I just wish we had longer to speak.