Thursday, November 21, 2019

Families - The Lefts Blindspot

Search the Labour and Libdem manifestoes for any mention of family breakdown. Go on, it won't take long.

Disintegrating family life is a blind spot on the left of British politics. Half of British children born today will experience the breakup of their parents by the time they get to 16. This in turn increases the risk of those children experiencing poverty, educational failure, mental illness, drug abuse, early pregnancy, and difficulty sustaining long term relationships. The estimated cost to the UK is £47bn per year in economic terms, never mind the emotional and social cost to all those caught up in the tragedy of family breakdown.

And what has Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson to say about this? Nothing. There is some admirable stuff on reducing poverty, which will alleviate pressure on poorer families. The two policies directly addressing family structure - legislating for no-fault divorce, and removing the Married Couples Allowance - make it a) easier for families to break up or b) harder for those who have entered the most stable adult arrangement, marriage. The renewed investment in Childrens Centres is welcome, it would be even more welcome if they were Parent Centres too, and the system around ante-natal and health visitor support also brought in an element of relationship support for the parents, alongside the current support for the mother. The quality of family life and parenting will be the biggest factor in life chances for any child, but we do absolutely nothing as a country to identify and promote good practice, for fear of being seen as a nanny state, or of 'stigmatising' parents.

We know that Boris Johnson is no fan of family life, having seen off two marriages and several affairs, and is unable to publicly admit to how many children he has. Does he even know? So I'm not expecting much better from the Conservatives. It pains me to say it, but on this David Cameron has the best record of recent prime ministers, initiating the 'Troubled Families Programme' and at least making some effort to do something about family breakdown, rather than ignore it.


  1. The divorce rate has been mostly falling for couple of decades, and in 2017 was the lowest it had been since 1973.

    see Fig. 2.

    The Civitas report you link to is from 2002. The Centre for Social Justice page doesn't define "family breakdown"; I didn't look through the various reports on that page to see where they are getting the data to claim that half of all children born today will experience it.

    Admittedly, with the marriage rate falling too, it's hard to rely only on divorce statistics for evidence of parental breakup. But it's also hard to rely on the same statistics as evidence of happy, healthy families; parents who stay together simply because getting a divorce is difficult aren't necessarily doing what is best for the children.

  2. The divorce rate has been falling partly because fewer people have been getting married, and its reasonable to assume those are the more committed couples, or those with more financial resources (due to the cost of weddings). The evidence shows that cohabiting couples are much more likely to break up than married couples.

    The Relationships Foundation estimate of the cost of family breakdown was recently revised up to £51bn per year

    The first page of this report shows a clear difference between the mental health of children whose parents stay together, whether married or cohabiting, and those who experience parental breakup and that's just the children, it's miserable for the adults as well.