For the second year running, UK is the champion of Europe, at least across the western half.
It’s a competition we really don’t want to win. It means Britain is once more on top of the league table of family breakdown, joined in equal first place by the Danes, and just pipping the Belgians and the French to the post. We only miss out on the full European title because the hapless Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania are even worse than us.
New data from Eurostat – based on the European Labour Force Survey – show that 23% of British children were living in lone parent families in 2013, down slightly on the previous year but up since the change of government in 2010.
Even these figures understate the full extent of the problem.
- One in four children doesn’t sound so bad. But this is an average of children living in lone parent families across all age groups. It also ignores the additional children whose parents have gone on marry or re-partner.
- Latest Census data for 2011, for example, shows that one in three children live in lone parent or step families.
- By the time children enter their teenage years, the proportion not be living with both natural parents reaches just short of one in two.
As we approach the new election, I live in hope that political parties will grasp the nettle and recognise that there are potential solutions (see our proposed manifesto).
- Firstly, it’s not at all obvious why family breakdown needs to be as endemic as it is. The Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy have half the level of family breakdown that we do.
- Secondly, our own research – released only last week – reveals for the first time that the majority of couples who are not married when they have children will separate, even if they go on to marry later. Regardless of age and education, the couples that stay together while their bring up their children are invariably married before they have children.
Getting married before you have children isn’t some throwback to the Edwardian era. It’s going with the grain of human nature. As human beings, we are far better at sticking to plans … when we have a plan in the first place.
We need a clear public health policy that encourages and incentivises formal commitment before having children
I hope politicians are listening.