Examine ways in which laws and social policies affect family life

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Examine ways in which laws and social
policies affect family life (24 marks)
The actions and policies of governments can sometimes have profound effects on families and
their members.
Functionalists see the state as acting in the interests of society in which help families perform their
functions more effectively. An example of this is Ronald Fletcher argues that the introduction of
health, education and housing policies in the years since the industrial revolution has led to the
welfare state that helps the family carry out their functions effectively. Ways in which social
policies support the nuclear family is through policies such as married couple's tax breaks which
rein force's the idea of marriage between young people, supporting the functionalist view.
Another policy that could affect family life is child benefits or child tax credits which helps parents
with their children economically however The New Right and sociologists such as Charles Murray
would argue that it offers `perverse incentives' meaning it encourages immoral behaviour such as
sex outside marriage and an increase in one person households, thus this creating a dependency
culture. This is where individuals become reliant on welfare benefits to support them and their
children rather than being self-reliant.
However other perspectives such as New Labour that takes a more positive view on social policy
compared to the New Right, believe state interventions can improve life for families. The New
Labour has introduced policies such as a law on adoption to give unmarried cohabiting couples
and same sex couples the right to adopt on the same basis as married couples. This promotes
different types of family diversity such as same sex relationships and gives unmarried people an
alternative of adopting as opposed to having a child of their own. Also New Labour's, welfare,
taxation and minimum wage policies are aimed to lift children out of poverty by re-distributing
higher benefits to the poor. However to keep in with New Right thinking, Labour introduced
Working Family Tax Credit (only available to those on low income) rather than being universal
benefit like child benefits.
On the other hand feminists would argue that social policy helps to maintain women's
subordinate position as feminists such as Hilary Land argues that policies often assume that ideal
family is the patriarchal nuclear family. Policies such as different tax and benefits may go to men
as they assume they are the main wage earners. Thus this makes it impossible for wives to claim
social security benefit and reinforces dependence on men. This effects family life as it gives way to
the patriarchal nuclear family as courts may assume that women should have custody of children
as they seen as `natural carers'. In addition to add to this point Diana Leonard argues that even
where social policies appear to support women, it may still reinforce the patriarchal family. For
example maternity leave policies are much more generous for women than men. This shows the
importance of social policies in the social construction of family roles and relationships.
Similar to Feminists, Marxists are conflict theorists and unlike Functionalists, argue that social
policies do not benefit all social classes equally. They see the state and its policies as serving

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This may affect family life as an elderly person may need a lot more support due to
such a low income the pension provides. Donzelot uses Foucalts concept of surveillance, who sees
power spread throughout society and not just the government. Foulcalt sees professionals such as
doctors and social workers as exercising power over clients by using their knowledge. Donzelot
applies this to the family and says that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their
knowledge to control and change families.…read more


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