Note: there are many policies and laws, and good answers need to include some examples of these; however, they do not need to be those given in this suggested answer.
A wide range of policies and laws affect families in many different ways. They can be grouped into two broad types — those that are specifically about families and those that are about other aspects of society but which have an effect on families.
In the latter category are education, health, work and welfare policies. For example, the age at which children end their compulsory education has risen over the last few decades. Raising the school-leaving age has had the effect of making young people dependent on their families for longer, and as they cannot work it may restrict the families’ income. On the other hand, state subsidies for nursery education and the availability of childcare through before- and after-school provision has the effect of freeing parents to work longer hours and increase family income, while more of the child’s socialisation happens outside home and family. Policies improving sanitation and water supplies, the introduction of a National Health Service and of child immunisations have reduced mortality and increased life expectancy, with the result that families are changed as people have smaller families.
There are also policies specifically affecting families. For example, the Divorce Reform Act which allowed ‘no fault’ divorces resulted in an increase in the number of divorces and this led to more lone parent families and reconstituted families, and also to more people living alone. The availability of benefits to lone parents has been particularly contentious, with New Right thinkers like Charles Murray alleging that benefits encourage young women to have children when, without benefits, they would be unable to support them. Some policies, often from a New Right agenda, encourage the traditional nuclear family and its associated gender roles at the expense of other types of family; other policies, such as civil partnerships and other measures introduced by Labour between 1997 and 2010, recognise and support a wider range of families and living arrangements.
In other countries and in different periods of history, policies have sometimes affected families in more dramatic ways. For example, China’s one child per family policy has reduced the average size of families, and also, because many parents want a boy child, has led to a gender imbalance in the population with males outnumbering females. Romania, under the Communist dictatorship of Ceausescu, pushed couples, through a variety of measures, into having more children than they wanted to or could afford.
02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2
Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:
Explanation of what is meant by a traditional nuclear family, including the instrumental and expressive roles taken by male and female respectively, and some explanation of ‘other types of family’.
A range of social policies (not necessarily recent) in the UK that have affected different types of families — both policies relating directly to families (e.g. payment of child benefit) and those relating to other policy areas that affect families (e.g. compulsory schooling).
Clear indication of those policies that promote the traditional nuclear family (e.g. tax concessions for married heterosexual couples) and those that do not (e.g. child benefit paid to the mother regardless of family type or circumstance).