Archdeacon of West Ham Elwin Cockett on Focus E15 Mothers and family


- Credit: Archant

The remarkable campaign of the ‘Focus E15 Mothers’ is a reminder of something that has been all-but absent in public policy in recent years: The importance of family ties. For if this brave band of young mums is defending anything, it is the aspiration of mothers with small children to live close to the people who love them and will support them in times of need, rather than being shipped out to far-off places.

There is an old Jewish proverb which says: “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” Back in the 1950s, two academics, Michael Young and Peter Willmott, wrote much the same in ‘Family and kinship in East London’. Their argument was that family and friends are vital to the health of mothers and children. And those same bonds are vital to the health of the older generation, too, as their children and grandchildren later care for them.

Writing decades later, Young and Willmott added: “If people wish to leave the city, and their relatives, that is fine… But if they do not wish to move away from the established social network, and if public policy offers them no effective opportunity to remain, the unhappiness and the social costs are far greater than they need to be.”

No-one should pretend that there are easy answers to London’s housing problems. They are as old as London itself. Nor should we listen to those who scapegoat immigrants, for they – from the Huguenots of the 17th century to the Eastern Europeans of our era – have been central to the growth, prosperity and diversity of London.

What we do need to say, though, is that dumping young mums in distant places where they have no family ties and no connections is not the solution – at least not one that we should contemplate. Quite apart from the unhappiness that it causes, it is likely to lead to the spiralling social costs that Young and Willmott warned us about years ago. With the NHS and Social Services struggling to meet our needs, family ties are more important than ever. More from Elwin Cockett