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New Labour’s communitarianism, supporting families and the ‘rationality mistake’: Part II

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In Part I of this study, we argued that New Labour is keen to use legislation to promote what it sees as desirable family forms and to discourage other, less-favoured family practices. The codification of this approach in the 1998 Green Paper Supporting Families - and, in particular, the 'New Deal for Lone Parents' - was compared with recent empirical research on how people make decisions about their moral economies. We concluded that the government's approach is subject to a 'rationality mistake' - people do not make decisions in the way the government assumes and hence legislation can be inefficient or even oppressive. Here, we examine this contention further, this time focusing on chapter 4 of the Green Paper, indicatively entitled 'Strengthening marriage'. Using recent empirical research on mothers' views on marriage and cohabitation, we find further evidence of the 'rationality mistake', where the government has misunderstood the ways in which people make decisions about partnering and hence misplaces the role of family law. We conclude that supportive and flexible legislative frameworks are needed that recognize the varying ways in which people take moral economic decisions.
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Keywords: COHABITANTS; COMMON LAW MARRIAGE; FAMILY LAW; NEW LABOUR; RATIONALITY; SUPPORTING FAMILIES

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Law, University of Wales Aberystwyth 2: Department of Applied Social Sciences, University of Bradford

Publication date: May 1, 2000

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