Academic lambasts Clegg's blaming of parents not poverty for kids' plight

By staff writers
August 19, 2010

Sociology professor Frank Furedi, from the University of Kent, has attacked the claim of the deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, that parenting is more important than poverty in ruining children’s life chances.

Furedi, author of Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, says the Liberal Democrat leader’s remarks show just how commonplace “parent-bashing: has become today.

“Clegg’s attempt to recast the age-old problems associated with poverty as principally a result of parents’ own moral failures resonates with the zeitgeist amongst policymakers and politicians”, writes Furedi on the website Spiked.

For Furedi, “[p]arenting has become an all-purpose causal explanation for virtually every problem afflicting society. Parental determinism minimises the importance of economic, social and cultural factors in everyday life and reduces the complex interaction between social wellbeing and family life to a simple question of moral failure.”

The outspoken academic locates the origins of “parental determinism” in the New Labour era. He writes: “It was Tony Blair’s regime which first promoted the fantasy that the government could fix society’s problems by getting its hands on the nation’s toddlers before their parents had a chance to ruin them. One of New Labour’s key focuses was on ‘early intervention’ - and for Blair, intervention could never be early enough. He believed it was possible to spot tomorrow’s ‘problem people’ even before they were born.”

Since then, Furedi continues, “the myth of parental determinism” has been institutionalised in Whitehall:

“Policymakers in the Lib-Con coalition seem to believe that the quality of parenting can determine just about everything in a child’s future. They even believe that parenting, when done well, can help to overcome society’s structural inequalities... In comparison with parental determinism, the economic determinism of Stalinism or the racial determinism of the old eugenics lobby seem positively subtle. That such voodoo science can shape the thinking of policymakers reflects the exhaustion of the political imagination today,” says Furedi.

Mr Clegg was echoing an earlier and similar statement on education and life chances from Conservative prime minister David Cameron.

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