Government is well aware of the problem. For starters, almost all welfare policy since 1997 is based on the premise that out-of-work lone parents are the most likely group to live in poverty. And I know for certain that several MPs have brought the issue of family breakdown to the Prime Minister’s attention, not least the current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith who founded the think tank Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
Back in 2006, under the leadership of Dr Samantha Callan, I co-wrote two CSJ papers (1, 2) that highlighted the scale and consequences of family breakdown and that the main driver was the trend away from marriage. Samantha subsequently became Mr Cameron’s family policy advisor. Yesterday, she and CSJ produced another excellent updated report on how to reverse family breakdown.
One of the longstanding recommendations is to have a minister in charge of family policy. When the £46 billion annual cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer is now far in excess of the defence budget, or half of the entire education budget, it makes obvious sense to have somebody responsible for bringing this vast bill under control.
Is government listening? It doesn’t look like it.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister also reshuffled his Cabinet. Is there a families minister? Of course not. No minister. No department. No policy. Just an open ended budget that will continue to rise and rise unchecked.
I can only assume there is a group blindness to the problem of family breakdown. It’s as if government thinks family breakdown is inevitable. Some may be. Some is even beneficial. Nobody wants abuse or forced marriages.
But the vast majority of family breakdown involving children comes from parents who aren’t at each others throats. This is not just the kind of low-conflict breakdown that causes most damage – because children don’t see it coming – but ought to be the kind of breakdown that could be most avoidable.
Government will claim that it does have a family policy.
- Some parents will be £200 better off if they are married, under the new transferrable allowance. Yet most parents are already £7,100 per year better off if they live apart (or pretend to).
- Relationship support for couples receives £7.5 million per year funding from government (almost all of which is for treatment anyway, not prevention). Yet this still equates to a puny 1.6 pennies for every £100 spent on family breakdown.
Money talks. In so far as there is any family policy at all, it is to make single earner couples who choose to look after their own children pay a whole lot more tax and couples who farm out their children to child care a whole lot less.
So we have a policy to separate parents from their children yet do nothing to encourage parents to stay together in the first place.
Now I don’t actually think for a moment that family breakdown is the fault of government. That’s primarily down to us and the trend away from marriage. But if government wants to be the most ‘family friendly ever’, there is yet so much it could do to make a difference.