Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale seeks to challenge lazy attempts to simply blame the parents after this week of rioting and violence


Parents. Apparently, it’s all their fault. “Broken families leads to broken Britain.” We’re told indiscipline in the home and classroom leads to riots on the street.

Cliches, followed by platitudes and soundbites frames a one dimensional immature debate which fails completely to make any sense of what’s happening on the streets of our country. Yes, Mr Salmond, our country.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, or indeed to understand even the magnitude of complex factors that resulted in this week of terror – but I would like to comment on the attempts to simply blame the parents.

From my perspective, to ‘blame the parents’ is to accept that bringing up a child is something an individual does in isolation. As if the experience they have at school or in their community is irrelevant, as long as the family unit is strong.

It’s much harder for politicians to take about the failings of the state because of the vested interests they’ve had in creating it and its functions.

What’s happening this week also needs to be read in the context of the Welfare Reform Bill and the sweeping changes it will make. It’s a bill with the best of intentions to ‘make work pay,’ but with a multitude of disastrous consequences.

One of the least understood aspects in my view, is the proposed changes to the Child Maintenance system. A clear statement of the Government’s attitude to its own role and purpose.

The Government’s intention is try and encourage people to make their own arrangements with their ex-partner for the care of their child. If the lone parent needs the state to intervene, then they will have to pay for it.

The welfare of the taxpayer yet again put before the welfare of the child.

There will be a one off fee of £100 for the use of the state system (£50 if you’re on benefits.) Then, the non-caring parent will be charged an additional 15-20% of each monthly maintenance sum, paid to the state. If that wasn’t enough, the caring parent will also have to surrender between 7 and 12% of the money they receive monthly to the government for the privilege of state intervention.

Exploitation of vulnerable people that would make companies like faint with envy – but this time it’s the Government who is the ‘lone shark.’

If this is a Government that cares about the big picture, then why on earth would it seek to profit from a broken marriage?

The Government must recognise that if parenting is everything, then the environment it creates to help families stay together, and to cope when they don’t, is absolutely crucial.

In happier news, I visited an amazing project operated by Barnardos this week called “You first.” It works with young mums and dads in small groups, equipping them with the skills to play properly. It’s a pilot and there’s hope that it could be rolled out nation wide in the future.

I can see the tabloid headlines now – “Government pays for teenage mums to sing humpty dumpty,” but play is incredibly important to the emotional, physical and neurological development of children. Deprive children of it and their ability to learn is tarnished.

The inequality of opportunity and life chances begins before they can speak.

This type of a preventative investment is at the heart of the Christie Commission – but that’s a blog post for another day.

However it will be a desperately sad tomorrow if the batons and plastic shields go back in the vans only for the business of welfare reform to resume unaffected.

Kezia Dugdale is a Labour MSP for the Lothians region and Co-Chair of the Cross Party Group on Children & Young People. For more on the campaign against child support charges see

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10 thoughts on “Government lone sharks

  1. The debate has indeed been disappointing, and your post is a welcome antidote to the out of touch responses from Cameron, Miliband, Salmond et al.
    People don’t get heard, so they shout louder. Some people feel like they’ve been taken from (and they’re not wrong to feel that way); so they do a bit of taking from themselves. A grab it while you can, eye for an eye mentality. Sound familiar? It’s the lowest common denominator value system pumped by red tops across the UK for the past 30 years, aided and appeased by successive governments.

  2. I think you’re getting mixed up between the past, the present and the future. The Welfare Reform Bill has not caused these riots, primarily because it is not yet law. I too believe it is ill-thought out, but its effects, if passed belong to the future.

    These riots can only be logically causally related to the present and past public policy, and the Labour party when in government, that is, up until very recently, repeatedly proposed and implemented “unhelpful” public policy which only served to alienate further those already on the edge. There is I believe, a strong causal link between this and the riots. Of course, I don’t think the coalition is any better, but nor do I expect them to turn out to be any worse.

    Aside form their wanton incompetence, it’s also the sheer hypocrisy of the Labour party which has lost my vote forever.

    But as you said, politicians dislike admitting responsibility.

  3. Just take a good look at the backgrounds of the English rioters.

    White, black and Asian. Educated and the poorly educated. Men, women, adults, youths, children. Middle class, working class and the underclass. The criminal fraternity, the non-criminal fraternity. In work, looking for work. In training, not in training. Two parents, single parents. Functional familes, dysfunctional families.

    Politicians, all politictians, attempting to address this scale of criminality by fixating on the usual suspects, giving usual excuses and usual fixes are simply not dealing with the enormity and complexity of what happened.

    Normal society broke down in England and it took, eventually, very tough police action to bring peace to English streets.

    In comparison normal society in Scotland did not break down.

    To say that we are ‘one’ country and it is a British problem does not reflect the reality.

    Worst still solutions that may be decreed by Westminster to deal with this ‘British Sickness’ will look like to Scots that we are being unfairly punished for the deeds of others across the border.

    These riots were English riots. They require English solutions.

  4. Paul – it wasn’t a dig, just a response to his comments this week which have broadly backfired.

    Jorge – you are right to say that current problems can only be read in the context of present and past policy decisions. All I’m trying to do with the post is to show that the decisions we make create the community we deserve. If we’re not prepared to invest in equipping people with the skills to be good parents, or to ensure that single parents get the support they need, and are entitled to, then we have little right to “blame the parents” when it all goes wrong.

    – Baring in mind of course that just because you’re poor doesn’t make you a criminal. Likewise, coming from a wealthy background doesn’t mean your family life is stable/positive.

    Mac – in what way do you anticipate Scots being unfairly punished!?

    1. Hi Kezia

      I’m afraid it is not Salmonds comments that have spectacularly backfired. It is those of the Scottish branches of Labour, LibDem and Tory which are now being seen as petty, vindictive and opportunistic.

      This response has become commonplace since the election as the ‘Unionist’ parties struggle to understand their rejection. A rejection that is now gaining strength as the First Minister repeatedly concentrates on placing Scotland first on his list of priorities. After all, isn’t that his job?

      1. For petty, vindictive and opportunistic, you only need to go as far as Alaex Salmonds comments.

  5. Kezia,

    You wrote “Yes, Mr Salmond, our country.”.

    It is perfectly acceptable to write an article without taking a swipe at the leader of the Scottish Government. Try removing that reference, the article reads just as well – you are an elected Labour MSP and do not need to do this.

    I recognise that it is your right to ‘have a go’ at Alex Salmond but, please, do so directly across the floor at Holyrood and not from the relative safety of this site.

    You are well intentioned and articulate. Why risk your future – and the future of Scotland – by indulging in this rhetoric.

  6. We are beginning to see the kinds of things that will be brought in down south:

    Police powers to demand people remove garments covering their faces

    Gang injunctions to prevent movement of people believed to be gang members to be extended (so far as I am aware there is no such thing as a gang injunction in Scotland so they would need to be introduced)

    Restrictions on social media like facebook, twitter etc

    Review of dispersal powers to extend power of police to bring in curfews.

    Minsters to consider whether army can take on some functions, such as guarding government buildings and facilities, to free up police officers.

    Since you are so determined that Alex Salmond is wrong to say that Scottish society is different you will presumably be supporting such measures being implemented in Scotland as well as England?

  7. We know that Tory ministers want those who receive non-custodial sentences
    should lose any social security benefits they may be claiming.

    It is recognised by the police, by probations officers and by social work staff in Scotland that regarding crime reduction initatives continued income support is fundamental to turning people’s lives around.

    It is also recognised, including the Scottish Parliament, that non-custodial sentences actually reduce re-offending.

    Now what would happen to re-offending rates in Scotland if social security benefits are withdrawn from those who have received a non-custodial sentence because of events in England.

    If Westminster takes away benefits for those who received non-custodial sentences then you better build more prisons in Scotalnd because you are going to need them.

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