tutor2u | Social Policy & Families: Coalition Government (2010 - 2015)

Study Notes

Social Policy & Families: Coalition Government (2010 - 2015)

AS, A Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 27 Sept 2019

The coalition government came to power in 2010 when David Cameron’s Conservatives were the biggest party in parliament but failed to get a majority, therefore forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to be able to get their legislation through. The conservatives had a mixture of maintaining the New Right approach of the 1979-1997 governments with more modern attitudes, whereas the Liberal Democrats tended to have a more liberal approach, accepting alternative family types.

They pursued some policies designed to promote the nuclear family, eg:

  • Removing the so-called couples penalty was an approach to ensuring that the benefits system did not include a perverse incentive for couples to break up in order to receive more benefits.
  • Shared parental leave. Both parties in the coalition were keen for parental leave to be able to be shared equally between men and women, rather than it being assumed that women would take an extended period off work while men would only be entitled to two weeks.
  • Equal marriage. 9 years after the Civil Partnerships Act, the coalition government brought in same-sex marriage. There was clear support for the move from both parties in the coalition, although there was a lot of opposition from traditionalists on the Conservative backbenches and also in religious organisations. The Church of England established a special exception, and it is illegal to conduct a same-sex marriage in a Church of England church. While it is theoretically possible for any other religious organisation to host a same-sex marriage, it was also written into the legislation that religious organisations could choose not to, without being in breach of the Human Rights Act or the Equality Act.

However, they also introduced policies that acknowledged and facilitated more modern notions of family life, for example:

Evaluating the coalition government, 2010 -2015

  • There does not appear to be a consistent thread of social policy relating to families during the period of this government. While the main focus of the government was on reducing public spending (to cut the deficit) there clearly were some high-profile pieces of social policy.
  • The introduction of same-sex marriages while leaving the option of civil partnerships on the table created a new, rather unusual inequality in UK law: same-sex couples could choose a civil partnership or a marriage, but the former was not available to heterosexual couples. While civil partnerships were introduced to be marriages in all but name, there were those who campaigned for the option to choose them, seeing them as a useful legal arrangement without the historical and cultural baggage of marriage. This was equalised in 2019.
  • Surprisingly few fathers are taking advantage of additional parental leave beyond the two weeks they were already entitled to. Only 2% of couples share parental leave and even before the option was introduced, only 40% of fathers used the 2 weeks they were entitled to. This does raise a range of questions about attitudes to family and parenthood in the UK today.


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