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What the government can do to really help families

    On Tuesday, we learned that the Government has drawn up some policy proposals which it thinks are woman and family friendly. It included some eminently sensible proposals to re-examine the length of the school summer holiday, to develop personal budgets for maternity services and to criminalise enforced marriage. In other respects, however, the list of policies looked distinctively nanny-statist.

    Last night a senior Tory explained how the leaked documents suggested that the government was looking to ‘ban all advertising directed specifically at under-16s’ and, perhaps more controversially, all adverts that display ‘gender stereotypes’.

    It is unclear what the latter would mean in practice, and even more unclear how swallowing the Harriet Harman desire for a genderless society would aid family units. But let’s be clear, censoring adverts in this way is intolerable in a free society and is a real sop to those who mistakenly see corporations as evil entities who shape society to the detriment of the oppressed.

    The truth is that companies market their products to maximise their sales, and as such their adverts ‘target’ their potential customers. The diversity of the adverts produced in that sense reflects the diversity of our society. Iceland adverts, for example, target mothers with young children. Heineken adverts target the male beer-lover with a liking for football. There’s nothing wrong with this. The corporations are reacting to the real life society we live in.

    If the Government really wants to help families, then rather than messing around with this sort of nonsense, it should review its energy policies – which will have devastating effects on the affordability of gas, electricity and fuel.

    Just yesterday I saw the start of this first hand. Our household monthly energy bill has jumped from £60 for electricity and £63 for gas, to £83 for electricity and £95 for gas. In part, this was due to an enforced change of tariff, but it is also due to the political decisions the government is making to unilaterally tackle climate change.

    A huge 87% of the public are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the cost of fuel and energy, and Chris Huhne’s claims that improving the efficiency of the home will actually lower bills seems incredibly dishonest. Make no mistake, a continuation of these spiralling costs (my weekly petrol bill has jumped by about £15 per week over the past year or so) will make life miserable for families up and down the country. It’s time the energy companies called the Government’s bluff by itemising the costs of its green measures on our total bill, and I would urge you all to lobby your MPs for a change in both energy and fuel policy. In fact, a good starting point would be to sign up to the Fair Fuel UK e-petition being run by the excellent Robert Halfon MP.

    Ryan joined the Centre for Policy Studies in January 2011, having previously worked for a year at the economic consultancy firm Frontier Economics.

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