Politics and a promise I can keep

I am a man of hope.I live in hope that the terrible tide of family breakdown can be turned. I live in hope that there will come a time when we no longer accept that nearly half of our teenagers are not living with both natural parents. I live in hope that future generations will do it a whole lot better than us.This is not wishful thinking. I have no desire to turn any clocks back. Nor is it ideology.Instead my hope is a confident hope. It’s based on human nature and evidence and outcomes and research and real life examples, all of which point to marriage.

That’s why I’ve nailed my colours to the mast of marriage. Marriage may not be a panacea. There will always be ghastly marriages. There will always be divorce. That’s part of human nature too. But marriage represents an attitude and a plan and a timeframe that establishes clarity and removes ambiguity. Doing it in front of friends and family affirms that getting married is a good decision and then holds the married couple to account for that decision. The result is that those who marry tend to stay together. Their families benefit in all sorts of ways. This is a consistent finding among research studies. At least if you marry and then blow it – as we so nearly did – you’ve had a go. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that parents might establish their own plan for the future before they have children.

Now I don’t think for one moment that government is to blame for family breakdown. After all, it’s risen consistently under all governments, year in year out, from half a million lone parent families back in the 1960s to two million today. Throughout this time, all of our political parties have rightly concluded that the state will provide when the family doesn’t. The bill to the taxpayer for this support now runs to £47 billion per year, regardless of the human heartache involved, and it keeps on rising. So they’re good at treating the problem.

I live in hope that one day our political parties will one day try to prevent the problem as well, embracing what is obvious to the vast majority of the population. Their policies will encourage marriage because it provides the surest foundation for a family life and reduces the likelihood of state intervention. They will set policies that encourage marriage and family stability and avoid policies that inhibit it – such as the ludicrous ‘couple penalty‘ that pays couples with one child up to £7,295 extra to live apart rather than together.

Alas far too many politicians still can’t quite bring themselves to back marriage with any real confidence – even if they themselves are married. They are swayed by sceptics who claim marriage and its associated benefits is all about the kind of people who marry. This is undoubtedly true in part. But only part. Where this scepticism is misplaced is in ruling out the possibility that marriage – and the decision it represents about the future made in private and affirmed in public – forms the safe foundation upon which subsequent family life operates. Just as I can’t prove cause and effect, sceptics can’t disprove it. It’s an odd sort of policy that looks at a body of evidence pointing only in one direction and then still says I’m not so sure.

So what about the manifestos of all the main political parties, now that we have seen them?

In terms of their support for families, the main focus seems to be on getting parents into work and children into childcare.

  • The Labour manifesto talks about early intervention (p33), boosting childcare, paternity leave and Surestart. Surestart is an interesting one. The government’s own evaluations have shown that children’s outcomes have not been improved one iota by the vast national resources pumped into Surestart, even if mums like it. Having run Let’s Stick Together programmes in dozens of Surestart centres myself, I am not at all surprised. Part of the problem is that most programmes weren’t evaluated (Let’s Stick Together was). The other part is that relatively few parents take advantage. I have long proposed that the highly successful NHS ante-natal programmes be relocated into Surestart. That would dramatically increase the proportion of parents returning post-natally. A deluge of parents would also force Surestart centres to run short preventive post-natal programmes rather than longer term mums and babies/toddlers groups (as welcome as these are to parents). If this is what Labour mean by encouraging ‘local services to co-locate’ (p44), there’s hope in this.
  • As well as competing on childcare, the Conservative manifesto explicitly links family breakdown as a pathway to poverty (p28) and also talks of backing marriage (p27). Alas it fails to link the two in any meaningful way. An extra £212 in tax allowance is not going to persuade anybody to marry. But imagine if you could persuade people to marry before they have children and imagine that these couples then achieved similar levels of stability. It wouldn’t happen quite like that but it might close the gap. The potential prize is huge. Family breakdown could be reduced by more than a quarter over time, equivalent to 70,000 children for every age group (based on our latest analysis of data from Understanding Society). I’ve always suspected that Conservative ministers like the idea of marriage but don’t really understand why being married might make a difference. But there’s hope in this too, that politicians will find out what the research says and thereby gain the confidence to back their own judgment.
  • I’ve skimmed the LibDem, UKIP and Green manifestos for evidence of some policy that will boost family stability. All three parties push childcare as their key family policy and not a lot else. The LibDems talk vaguely of ‘encouraging integration’ of local services (p57) and mention ‘marriage’ seven times – but only in the context of same sex marriage or forced marriage. UKIP want to increase the transferable marriage allowance to £300 per year – still largely meaningless but notionally the most pro-marriage policy of all the parties – and otherwise mention ‘marriage’ four times, three of which regarding immigration and ‘sham’ marriages, and one regarding war widow pensions. And the Greens want to return to the old ineffective Surestart (p36) and have nothing to say at all on either marriage or family breakdown.

So for the foreseeable future at least, the negative tide of family breakdown is not going to be turned by our politicians. Whether the parties keep any of these promises anyway is anyone’s guess. Most will fall by the wayside if the election produces no clear winner.

But what I can do, and what any of us can do, is stick to the promise I made when I got married. That, at least, is one promise I can keep.


7 thoughts on “Politics and a promise I can keep

  1. You have good reason to Hope Harry. Marriage works for anyone and everyone who is prepared to apply its fundamental principles. It has been proven so for millennia.
    ve been married for nearly 20 years, in which my wife and I have applied those age old principles and promises we made together. For better, worse, sickness, health, richer, poorer, forsaking all others.
    It has worked for us since 1995, it works today for those couples who are prepared to make marriage promises to each other, and having made them, apply them daily.
    The shallow alternative is what needs to be called to account. “Stable relationships”? Please define? What is a “stable relationship”?
    Committed relationships? Even worse! If you’ve not made marriage promises, before witnesses and the law, your not in a “committed” relationship that anyone can evaluate, it is merely the subjective opinion of those claiming to be in one!
    Our politicians should be challenged when they use such rhetoric.
    A marriage can objectively point to a future hope and commitment in a relationship.
    The unmarried can only refer to their past! ” We’ve been together for……”
    How long you have been together in the past, is no objective basis of a future commitment anyone can rely on. A month, year, decade or two are no assurance that you’ve committed beyond today! Either can walk away tomorrow, and that is it over.

    We must also challenge the misrepresentation and presupposing that goes on in relationships, that take their assumptions from a marriage. You cannot “cheat” on a partner if you have not made a marriage promise.

    There is no unwritten moral law of infidelity outside of marriage. Only the married can “cheat” or commit adultery, because only then independent witnesses can objectively state, “That husband or wife made a promise before us and the law, they they would be faithful only to their spouse, forsaking all others.”

    So many unmarried couples expect faithfulness, as if its natural and certain. What a misunderstanding. Its an false presupposition what goes unchallenged! Why on earth do you people think married couples have to promise to actually do this? The fact that unfaithfulness is far more prevalent among the unmarried, and still among the unmarried, proves there is nothing natural or innately moral about being faithful just because two people being being intimate in their relationship. It requires a promise to be made and kept.

    It is shocking that too many politicians are too cowardly to stand up for what is objectively evidence based, and defend marriage. They will deny people the right to smoke themselves to death, penalise those who pollute the planet ( cars), but only throw money at the symptoms of family breakdown instead of being honest with the next generation and warn them of the dangers and risks of intimate relationships outside marriage.

    In the mean time, those of us who are married will have to continue to be a light, and show them the way.

  2. Politicians are not the ones who should be encouraging marriage as they are fundamentally immoral themselves. Financial incentives are even more pointless because if a couple decide to stay together for financial reasons then what sort of relationship do they have?
    In the end I believe that marriages fail for all sorts of reasons but very often because people are idealistic about relationships and jump into marriage before they really know their partner. Phrases like ‘love at first sight’ say it all; most people’s idea of love is actually a mixture of romantic fantasy and lust. Love is something which grows and develops through trust built over years of sticking with each other through thick and thin. My partner and I aren’t married in the eyes of the law or the church but we are married in our hearts. The commitment between us doesn’t need to be recognised by anyone else; other peoples evaluation of it is totally irrelevant to us.
    I would define our relationship as ‘stable’ and certainly a lot more stable than many married couples I know. ‘Stable’ for the benefit of the person above is a relationship built on trust and total respect. I don’t think a piece of paper is that relevant; very nice to walk up the aisle and have a party but in the end you are the same two people when you wake up the next day and it is your characters and determination that will keep it together, not the written or spoken contract.

  3. Also (just re-reading Dave’s comment) to be honest if my partner decides he is unhappy in the relationship and doesn’t want to work at it, I would rather he left. I would be heartbroken but I want him to be with me because he wants to be, not because he’s stuck with me because we’re married. How ridiculous to say that if you aren’t married you can’t cheat on each other – I cannot comprehend this sort of thinking.

    • In reply to RedXShoes, you’ve proved my point. Your not “married in heart” at all. That’s just fantasy. Marriage is not a party and piece of paper. It a covenant of promises made before witnesses and the law, which are objective, and for which couples can be held to account. When have you mutually made them in your heart? That your partner can walk away should he feel like it proves the point that any “stability” is based on the past, not a future.
      As for cheating, again you prove my point, what can’t you comprehend? It’s a presumption. What is the basis of fidelity outside of marriage? What promise has been made?

      • I get what you’re saying and I think if it works for you then great, but what works for one couple won’t work for another. There are plenty of unmarried couples who stay together for good and married couples who don’t. There are unhappy marriages and happy partnerships and vice versa.
        If I had believed in marriage I probably would have married my first love who turned out to be the Wrong man for me in terms of being emotionally abusive and I probably would have tried to ‘make it work’ even longer than the ten years I did, because I’d made that commitment. Fortunately I left him and have found a better relationship as an older woman who is able to discern what is good for me. I trust he won’t leave me but I don’t see the difference the piece of paper would make. People still walk away, married or not. And sometimes it’s for the best.
        I do see your point and I think in an ideal world perhaps it’s right but it hasn’t worked for everyone throughout history and it won’t today. I wouldn’t like to see a return to the days when people stayed together in miserable relationships because of social expectations.

  4. Yes, there are some good and bad marriages, and good and bad unmarried relationships.
    But it’s not 50/50. It is a common myth that people who are married are more likely to stay in a miserable/abusive relationships. The reality is, many more unmarried couples do so, I’d to as far as to say the vast majority of reported DA is by unmarried couples. The unmarried are more likely to experience emotional abuse, controlling and jealous behaviour. The risk / likelihood of abuse is higher among the unmarried, than married. Watch the news and you will see the a majority of domestic murders are among the unmarried. Not all, but the majority. There is a direct link to the fact couples have made no actual commitment. No commitment, increases greater fears, uncertainty of the future, a need to control, jealousy and subsequent abuse.
    A piece of paper makes no difference. But if a couple will mutually agree to promise to love each other, for better or worse, sickness and health, till they die, they establish a basis for their future, that is grounded on promises to exclusively love, not feelings now, or the past.
    Marriage works, for the vast majority. Long term unmarried relationships are rare.

  5. Pingback: 1.8 million EXTRA broken homes: The real cost of the trend away from marriage |

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