Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess sociological views of the impact of government policies and laws on family life (24 marks)
Social policies are laws made by the state to bring a change to society. As stated in item 2B different political policies have different ideologies and agendas that they will try and reinforce through the family.
One example of a social policy is The Family Act Law in 1996 which is a part of John Majors ‘Back to Basics Campaign’ and this introduced a one year waiting period before a couple could file for divorce. It was implemented to encourage and reinforce the nuclear family and give couples a chance to work on their relationships and not choose the easy way out. This policy was to favour New Right as they believe that divorce undermines the traditional nuclear family. In their view, divorce creates more welfare dependent lone parent families, 90% of all lone parent families are matriarchal families and prevents boys from growing up properly, without the male role model they need to be successful for the future. As stated in 2B the New Right argue that the benefit system undermines traditional nuclear family by encouraging lone parents through divorce.
Postmodernists would totally disagree with New Right thinkers and argue that this policy creates less family diversity and stops the creation of new family types such as lone parent families and reconstituted families. As stated in Item 2B, feminists argue that social policies assume that the ideal family s the nuclear family, and this policy favours this sort of family. Feminists would argue that most divorces are made by women, seven out of ten of all divorces. And so feminists would think that by keeping women in a relationship for a year, this would be oppressing them to stay in an unhappy and maybe abusive relationship. This policy would reinforce the ideology that Ansley says women are ‘the takers of shit’.
Marxists would disprove this policy as it serves the needs of capitalism, maintaining the nuclear family. It is also very expensive so it doesn’t give the chance to some of the working class to file for divorce which leads to more empty shell marriages and keeps the two in an unhappy relationship. This policy has the impact of encouraging the nuclear family by giving the couple time to resolve their disputes in hope of them agreeing to stay together. However Lister (1996) suggests these policies are ‘an orgy of lone parent bashing’, by removing the likelihood of a lone parent family, which is disliked by conservatives and New Right.
Another policy introduced by Harold Wilson in 1967 was the Abortion Act. This allowed abortion to be performed on the approval of two medical practitioners, unless termination is immediately necessary to save a life. This policy was implemented by Labour and made contraception widely available, provided with women more choice in regards to their fertility, and allows them to pursue a career before having children. This policy was to control the size of the population, and reducing the size of the family encouraging child centered families and allowing parents to use their resources and more attention on these few children. New Right would disagree with this policy as they believe it’s reinforcing this ideology that women don’t have to start a family, it discourages the traditional nuclear family. Functionalists would also disagree as reproduction is a function of the family, it is not meant to be manipulated with and it discourages the traditional nuclear family in order for society to function correctly.
However postmodernists would agree with this policy as it favours diversity and different family types such as cohabiting couples and single person households. Feminists would also agree with this policy as it gives women a chance to decide what they want to do with their bodies and gives them a a chance to focus on their career, before having children by choice. Marxists would agree as the nuclear family serves the needs of capitalism and with the use of abortion, there will be less families. This policy contrasts with the government policy in Romania in the 1980s where the former communist government attempted to increase the birth rate by putting restrictions on contraception and abortion, setting up fertility centres, making divorce more difficult to obtain and forcing childless couples to pay an extra 5% income tax.
This was set up to increase the population and therefore increase the size families in Romania. In China, there was a one child policy to reduce population size and discouraged couples from having more than one child. According to Adrian Wilson (1985) the policy is supervised by workplace family planning committees, women must seek permission to try and become to try to become pregnant, and there is a waiting list and a quota for each factory. Couples who comply with the policy get extra benefits such as free health care and higher tax allowances, An only child will also get priority in education and housing in later life. Couples who break the agreement must repay their allowances and pay a fine. Women are also faced the pressure to undergo sterilization after their first child. This encourages people to have one child and therefore affects family life by controlling family size through this policy.
Another social policy is Working Family Tax Credit introduced by labour government and improves the conditions of the underclass. It is a state benefit made to families that work and have low income. It was implemented to provide a system of support to help families tackle child poverty and make work pay. The policy tops up the wages of parents moving from benefits to low paid work. It was a system of support for families by reducing the amount of tax they have to pay. It removes children out of poverty and allows more opportunity within the family for children, for example education because with more wealth the child will not experience material deprivation and will gain more cultural capital, consequently improving their educational prospects and more opportunities later in life.
New Right would agree with this policy as it encourages people to have the traditional nuclear families by benefiting from it, functionalists favour this as the nuclear family serves the functions for society to run successfully. Feminists would dislike this policy as it’s encouraging women to stay in the traditional nuclear family as they can benefit from it, this causes women to stay in an unhappy relationship where they may be vulnerable to domestic violence. Marxists would also dislike this policy as the family is serving the needs of capitalism, further allowing the bourgeoisie to exploit its workers through the family.
A final example of a social policy is Sure Start which was implemented by the Labour Government and aimed at giving every child the best start at life which offers a broad range of services including family health, early years care and education and improved well being programmes to children aged 4 and under. It was set up to end child poverty, reduce social exclusion and save money by creating well behaved youngsters who would be less likely to get involved in crime. It also brings benefits to health, education and family life and encourages parents to be better parents , gives single parents opportunities. A study published in December 2010, compared 5 year olds in sure start areas with their contemporaries in non sure start areas and found that there were fewer obese children in the areas where the programme had run.
Parents felt there were many benefits, they said children were well behaved and healthier. New Right despise this social policy as it encourages more single parent families, knowing they will get help from sure start and undermines the traditional nuclear family. Functionalists would agree with New Right as it encourages more single parent families, undermines the traditional nuclear family and therefore the functions cant be performed through the family.
Feminists would favour this policy as it lets women escape the oppression from the family, knowing lone parent families will get help from Sure Start. There are 12 and a half hours of free nursery available for children and this can encourage people to spend less time with their children so New Right and Functionalists would disagree as parents are supposed to socialize their children. Marxists would also disagree as it creates more flexible hours for parents to work, therefore serving the needs of capitalism.
In conclusion, the impacts of government policies and laws can have massive effects on family life and differences in family types.