Let’s dispense with the clichés up front: strong families are a vital foundation of a good society; family life is changing significantly; children are our most precious citizens.
So far, so obvious. But which institution, or institutions, are we talking about here? The last Labour Government reportedly spent weeks on an internal argument over whether a green paper should refer to ‘the family’ at all or simply to ‘families’. There is some substance behind these semantics. ‘The Family’ – capital T, capital F – denotes, for many, a husband and wife plus a couple of kids, with perhaps a distinct nod towards roles for the parents: breadwinning for Dad, childrearing for Mum.
By contrast, ‘families’ provides a broader canvas. There are single parent families, cohabiting families, gay families, step-families. So by using ‘families’ rather than The Family, we hope to avoid passing judgement.