2 Aug 2010
register offices - or 'gesture politics' at its worst:
1. Paul Boateng, then Labour Shadow Minister in the Commons for the
Lord Chancellor's Department, begins the argument for the signposting of
couples by Registrars towards marriage preparation on 24th April 1996
during a debate on the Family Law Bill: "At the moment, there is no
preparation at all for civil marriage, and there is absolutely nothing
on the face of the Bill to give any hope whatsoever that that will occur
or is envisaged... The Government also have to come forward with
proposals in relation to preparation for marriage and with proposals
that recognise the need for concerted and focused action to support the
institution of marriage and the family." [Hansard]. The Conservatives
2. The Labour Government makes proposals in its "Supporting Families"
consultation for changes in practice at Register Offices to provide more
information and support to couples preparing for marriage.
3. "The Hart Report" recommends more government support for
preventative couple education programmes; reiterates proposals in
"Supporting Families" [The Lord Chancellor agrees with Sir Graham Hart's
conclusion that public funding of marriage support agencies is highly
appropriate and worth-while. The Lord Chancellor has considered Sir
Graham's recommendations in detail, and accepts them. Hansard]
4. "Moving Forward Together", a Proposed Strategy for Marriage and
Relationship Support from the Lord Chancellor's Department reiterates
proposals in "The Hart Report".
5. "Civil Registration - Vital Change" reiterates "The registration
service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information on
services .... for example on ...... marriage preparation".
6. "Civil Registration: Delivering Vital Change" consultation
reiterates earlier proposals and includes "Give responsibility for the
delivery of face-to-face services to local authorities".
7. In the House of Commons debate the Labour Treasury Minister, Ruth
Kelly, says: "In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the
Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to
act as a focal point for information about services associated with
births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation
...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local
authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of
their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration
service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local
authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards."
[Hansard]. But Labour funk it too.
8. At the Conservative Party Conference [30th September 2008] Maria
Miller, Shadow Minister for the Family, announces "Most young couples
now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is
no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a
registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to
start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of
routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of
wedding registrars agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting
forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be
made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at
this critical point in their life."
9. The Local Government Association publishes posters for register
offices signposting couples to a website the front page of which does
not even mention marriage, let alone preparation for it.
10. The Centre For Social Justice publishes "Every Family Matters"
[July 2009] - ignoring the policy announcement of Maria Miller in
September 2008 - and proposes, "Before being married in England and
Wales a couple should be strongly encouraged by Government to attend a
pre-marriage information course. A note should be made by the registrar
of marriages of those who attend in order to measure effectiveness and
usage." However, the Centre promotes legally enforceable pre-nuptial
agreements which are preparations for divorce. The £4bn a year 'Family
Law' lobby has clearly twisted the arm of the Centre For Social Justice.
11. At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2009 Maria Miller
reiterates her announcement made at the conference in September 2008 but
12. Speaking to The Sunday Times [27th December 2009] ahead of the
launch of a Labour green paper, Ed Balls announces that his department
is changing the direction and face of [family] policy. "In the past I
think our family policy was all about children. I think our family
policy now is actually about the strength of the adult relationships and
that is important for the progress of the children," he said. .....
While Labour will stop short of saying marriage is 'superior' to other
committed relationships, the new policy will highlight how much better
children fare if their parents stay together.
13. It's just more 'gesture politics', devoid of action.
7 Oct 2009
This is from David and Liz Percival's Weekly Update of UK Marriage News - No 9.37
"Sham marriage boom after judges rule Home Office crackdown is illegal
Sham marriages are booming after judges relaxed laws designed to prevent them, figures show reports the Daily Mail. The number of illegal immigrants who stage fake ceremonies to stay in the country are likely to top 500 this year, the highest level since 2004. Growing abuse of marriage laws appeared to have been stemmed that year after non-EU nationals were told they must apply for Home Office approval before marrying an EU citizen. But last year Law Lords said the rules against fake marriages breached human rights and could deny genuine couples the right to marry.
The figures, an increase of 80 per cent compared with three years ago, were produced by the Home Office and disclosed by More4 News. They showed that there were almost as many suspect marriages in the first six months of this year as in the whole of 2006. In 2004 the Home Office counted more than 3,500 suspect marriages, each involving one European Union citizen with the right to live in Britain, and one non-EU resident marrying to gain the right to stay.
Legislation introduced by former Home Secretary David Blunkett then brought in rules which said non-EU nationals must apply for Home Office approval before marrying an EU citizen. In some cases, a 'fiancé visa' costing £600 was required. However a series of test cases in the High Court and Court of Appeal ended with rejection of the new law by judges. Last summer the Law Lords said the restrictions were unlawful under human rights rules. Baroness Hale, a judge who has now transferred to the Law Lords successor body, the Supreme Court, said that denying the human rights of a couple with a genuine relationship was 'neither a rational nor a proportionate response to the legitimate aims of a firm and fair immigration policy.'
The 3,578 sham marriages in 2004 fell to 282 in 2006. But after the restrictions were abandoned in the wake of the 2008 Lords decision, they have climbed by 80 per cent. There were an estimated 261 fake marriages in the first half of this year, putting numbers on course for more than 500 over 12 months. Senior registrars believe the estimates undercount the true level of immigration cheating through marriage.
Mark Rimmer, director of marriage registration at Brent council in North West London, told More4 News: 'We are seeing a steady increase in the numbers coming through our doors who are producing certificates of approval from the Home Office who have no connection with their partner, sometimes they don't even share the same language with their partner and are unable to communicate with each other in any way apart from through an interpreter.' He added: 'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to think these are not love matches. These are purely for the purposes of immigration avoidance. We are getting reports from every register office that I talk to that they are seeing people in every week, now that means we are looking at a figure in the thousands, not in the hundreds.'"
I suspected that this issue would come home to haunt those who failed to include proper provisions in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, but I did not think it would be quite so soon.
Law Lords said the rules against fake marriages breached human rights and could deny genuine couples the right to marry. They were right.
Enforced marriage law forces couple apart where, "Rochelle is about to be deported from the UK and has been told that she will not be able to come back to see Adam until she is 21. She has become the first unintended victim of changes to UK immigration laws which were designed to protect young British Asian women from being subjected to forced marriages."
A problem with the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act - as some of us pointed out at the time - was that it failed in its objective of "protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent and for protecting individuals who have been forced to enter into marriage without such consent; and for connected purposes." [such as other bogus marriages]
It can now be seen to be preventing couples - with perfectly legitimate credentials - from getting and staying married!
One reason the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act has failed is that it relied upon:
"63Q Guidance (1) The Secretary of State may from time to time prepare and publish guidance to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about:
(a) the effect of this Part or any provision of this Part; or
(b) other matters relating to forced marriages.
(2) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance is given under this section must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.
(3) Nothing in this section permits the Secretary of State to give guidance to any court or tribunal. "
(2) might be a Registrar, but as far as I am aware, the only 'Guidance' issued has been to Health Professionals, including:
"Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against women. Although throughout this document the term “women” is used to describe anyone who is trapped in, or, under threat of, a forced marriage, much of the guidance can also apply to men. Forced marriage should be regarded as a form of domestic abuse and, depending on age, child abuse. Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 10 and 30, although about 15 per cent of those helped by the Forced Marriage Unit are male."
The principle of guidance for marriage preparation should be in the Act, which should be renamed the Forced and Bogus Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. By the time Health Professionals are involved it is too late.
How can a Registrar - or an official concerned with Immigration and Border Control - distinguish between a couple entering an arranged marriage from a forced one, unless the couple have undertaken a valid assessment with a suitable facilitator who is willing to sign a certificate that he/she believes the couple have completed the programme in good faith?
If we - as a society - wish to change the culture towards respect for marriage, in our legislation we need to be a lot clearer about the implications of how we are going to support the principle "Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(2))
I am suggesting additional clauses should be added concerning 'guidance':
(c) Registrars - and Immigration and Border Control Officials - must explain to all couples intending to marry the opportunities and advantages for the parties to participate together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards.
(d) this programme is to assist them in preparing for a healthy marriage and to:
1. confirm to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage, and
2. protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus.
(e) the advantage of obtaining a certificate from the facilitator of the programme of marriage preparation that they have satisfactorily completed both the educational programme and the inventory.
(f) in the event of a Registrar - or Immigration and Border Control Official - being suspicious that the "Marriage [is not being] entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses" the matter must be referred with the evidence [such as a statement from the marriage preparation facilitator as to why he/she cannot sign a certificate confirming that the "research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards has been completed" to the appropriate Local Authority Solicitor.
In the SUMMARY OF CONSULTATION RESPONSES during the passage of the Bill - provided by the Odysseus Trust - they referred to:
3.4 Any other changes
The consultation asked for suggestions about any other changes to the Bill. Respondents made various suggestions of other issues relevant to forced marriage, including:
• The need for increased resources to tackle the problem of forced marriage, including for community groups and the voluntary sector;
• The importance of tackling domestic violence, including forced marriage, in a comprehensive, holistic way;
• The need for greater understanding of the obligations of marriage and the voluntary nature of marriage;
Among the proposed amendments was:
(1) The Secretary of State may from time to time prepare and publish guidance to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about—
(a) the effect of this Part or any provision of this Part; or
(b) other matters relating to forced marriages.
(2) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance is given under this section must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.
This was included in the Act - see above.
However, based on what happened to the attempts to have provision for marriage preparation included in the Family Law Act of 1996, I doubted if anyone except a horse marine would believe people could rely upon the Secretary of State in any government getting around to giving guidance to persons exercising public functions concerning marriage. I was wrong - in the sense that 'guidance' has been issued to Health Professionals [albeit they are scarcely "exercising public functions concerning marriage", but right in the sense that it is the wrong guidance being issued to the wrong people.
The Conservatives will - hopefully - have an opportunity to improve substantially the Forced Marriage [Civil Protection] Act by renaming it the Forced and Bogus Marriage (Civil Protection) Act and by including in it Guidance that requires Registrars to explain the advantages to all couples of undertaking a "research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards."
But we have not heard anything yet from the Conservatives to suggest they are even remotely in touch with this issue.
26 Sep 2009
He quotes Iain Duncan Smith, "I have always believed that it would be impossible to prove conclusively that simply having a lone parent effects your outcomes as a child and we have never argued that.”
Dave and Liz Percival make some sensible comments at their Weekly Update of UK Marriage News - No 9.35 20/9/09 which can be found at www.2-in-2-1.co.uk
"At first sight the news that children of single parents do as well as those of married parents, both academically and behaviourally may seem like a real blow to some of the arguments for the “benefits” of marriage..... But dig a little deeper behind the bald headline and one finds an important caveat – singleness is OK as long as it is constant, with no new partners entering the scene.... This poses a dilemma for policy makers – shift policy to make re-partnering of single mums less socially acceptable, or support the formation of the most stable family structure before children are born, and ensure it is supported throughout life. Far from being bad news, this [OECD] study to me seems to point to one of the most compelling arguments why the inherent stability of marriage should be high on society’s agenda – the fluidity of modern “serial relationships” is destroying the lives and futures of our kids."
The argument, “support the formation of the most stable family structure before children are born, and ensure it is supported throughout life” seems convincing to me, along with the argument of the OECD which is 'convinced that giving specific benefits to single parents may make matters worse.' "There is little or no evidence that these benefits positively influence child well-being, while they discourage single-parent employment.
In the UK we have tried giving substantial benefits to 'single' parents – many of whom [up to 200,000 according to Frank Field] are not really 'single' but hostesses of 'guest' [often serial] stepfathers – only to find the lives of the children are disrupted to a much greater extent than if they remained genuinely 'single' mothers. Indeed, the rates of child abuse in such 'families' is significantly higher, some studies indicating 33 times greater.
What we have not tried in the UK is to “support the formation of the most stable family structure before children are born, and ensure it is supported throughout life”. Indeed, the status of married couples has been undermined through both the tax and benefit systems, most particularly that of the poorest married couples.
When the Labour government was elected, the Social Exclusion Unit announced that there were eight indicators of deprivation, one of which was 'family breakdown'. However, when the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and the ONS published the Neighbourhood Indices of Deprivation in 2001 there were only seven of them, plus an Index of Multiple Deprivation, the omission being 'family breakdown'.
No one has given a satisfactory explanation as to why there is no Neighbourhood Index of Domestic and Social Cohesion, nor have politicians or journalists been sufficiently inquisitive to investigate.
Mark Easton quotes the OECD, "There is little or no evidence that these [single parent] benefits positively influence child well-being.... “ At the start of 2009 a Local [Neighbourhood] Index of Child Well-being was published – though not included in the Index of Multiple Deprivation; this was published through the DCLG which is now responsible for the Indices.
So in future, it should be possible to measure changes in 'child well-being'. But I doubt very much if this government will sanction the publishing of an 'index of domestic and social cohesion' for fear that neighbourhoods with low levels of domestic and social cohesion are shown to be much the same as the neighbourhoods with low levels of child well-being.
And that would never do for HMG, and probably not for the BBC either!
8 Jul 2009
“The fact that some relationships will fail doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to make other relationships succeed.”
He trumpeted, “David Cameron’s social policy is focused almost obsessively on marriage, cajoling people to conform to a single view of what a happy couple should look like...... it’s relationships that matter, not signatures on a piece of paper.” He went on:
“But the Labour party is wrong, too, when it ignores interpersonal relationships. When it pretends that family circumstances don’t make a difference to children’s lives. All the evidence shows that it’s better for children to have two parents who get on well together looking after them.”
So he reads some research, when it suits him.
Like other Liberal Democrats he, “attaches real value to relationships, to commitment and to love, but does not seek to limit or prescribe what makes for a strong relationship.”
Hang on a minute! I thought he just said it is wrong to pretend “that family circumstances don’t make a difference to children’s lives.”
Family circumstances – including marital status – do make a difference to children's lives. Harry Benson of Bristol Community Family Trust has updated his earlier research with, “Back off or Fire back? Negative relationship behaviours amongst postnatal married and cohabiting couples”:
“Analysis of marital outcomes amongst 15,000 mothers from the Millennium Cohort Study (Benson, 2006) showed that 6% of married parents had split up by their child’s third birthday compared with 20% of cohabiting parents and 32% of all unmarried couple parents (combining parents who describe themselves as either “cohabiting” or “closely involved”).
Benson’s analysis also found that marital status was the single most important factor in predicting break-up. Demographic factors such as age, income, education, ethnic group and receipt of welfare payments each independently influence the risk of family breakdown amongst new parents. Yet after controlling for these factors, unmarried parents were still more than twice as likely to split up compared to similar married couples.
Analysis of the most recent wave of Millennium Cohort Study data for this paper showed that the risk of breakdown by a child’s fifth birthday had risen to 9% for married parents, 26% for cohabiting parents and 35% for all unmarried couples. The risk of family breakdown amongst unmarried couples with children under five years old is thus four times higher than for equivalent married couples.”
So if clever Nick Clegg is right to complain the Labour party's “wish not to stigmatise single parents has led them to minimise the importance of couples in family life” he is wrong by the same token to ignore the evidence of the significance of marriage in providing more stability in the family life of couples – four times as much for couples with children under five.
This website http://www.coupleconnection.net/ does not even mention marriage on the front page. It is clearly designed to pander to all the seekers after alternative lifestyles which the Conservatives say they are trying to encourage people to get away from. You have to dig deeply to find anything about marriage preparation.
Is the LGA a quango without political direction? I had fondly imagined that with the majority of councils under Conservative control it would be following Conservative family policies.
29 Apr 2009
A lesson from Australia – are the Conservatives about to be hoodwinked by the Local Government Association over marriage preparation?
- Kevin Andrews concluded “.... there is one lesson that clearly emerges from the events of over a decade. It is that marriage breakdown and child support are the tail that wags the body of family policy. As a consequence, government support for marriage education has been caught in the crossfire of debate about the causes, meaning, and consequences of family breakdown over the past four decades. Numerous inquiries have been conducted, and hundreds of millions of dollars are now expended on the consequences of marriage breakdown. Despite the fact that marriage breakdown costs the nation billions of dollars each year and leaves both men and women substantially worse off, little is spent by way of comparison on prevention. Yet the research indicates that programs of prevention, education, and skills development can enhance the prospects of successful marriage.”
In the UK, the Local Government Association represents local councils with large workforces. These include many people who work in social services, schools and colleges and are dealing with the consequences of relationship breakdown. In addition to these, police and health workers respond to the consequences of domestic violence and truancy and the other results of disaffection including drug and alcohol addiction. There are vast armies of people whose jobs now depend on - or whose significance is substantially enhanced by - the consequences of relationship breakdown.
Search the web sites of the Local Government Association and its subsidiary LACORS and you will be very pushed to find a reference to any work being done or contemplated to prevent relationship breakdown.
It was surprising, therefore, when a new policy was announced by Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the Family, at the Conservative Conference on 30th September 2008:
- "Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they (are) putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too."
- “I believe Maria Miller MP misunderstood the LGA’s position on this. We are broadly supportive of the notion that as a society, we should do more to support committed relationships, including marital ones but not only those, and that this would in particular benefit children where couples are parents. LACORS …. is the part of the LGA that deals with regulatory services and provides information for registrars. Colleagues in LACORS are putting together some guidance for registrars to help them provide information to couples on pre-marriage advice services available in their area. This information is, I understood, due to go out in May this year .”
- “In 1980, my wife Margaret and I, along with a small group of like-minded couples, established the Marriage Education Programme in Melbourne. In almost 30 years, we have provided marriage education courses to some 20,000 people. The work is undertaken on a voluntary basis, apart from the employment of an administrative assistant. We receive a small grant from the federal government. Otherwise the work is self-funding. It is an example of a group of people recognizing a need and responding to it. It is an example of how government can support the voluntary sector.
- Following the election of the Howard government in 1996, I established an inquiry into strategies to strengthen marriage and relationships in Australia. The resulting report, 'To Have and to Hold', noted the significant costs of marriage breakdown for individuals and society and recommended increased funding for programs of education, skills training, and prevention. The publication of the report was seminal in the discussion of marriage education policy. It was the first time that a legislature had undertaken a thorough review of the field, and it became a stimulus for other policy discussions.
- The report led to increased government funding for marriage education and related services, but suggestions for a more equitable basis for the funding were ignored. A pilot scheme of education vouchers was introduced and, although successful, was never implemented universally. More recently, the Howard government established 65 Family Relationship Centres around the country to act as a gateway to family support services. Their introduction had its origins in the ongoing dispute about child support.
- Soon after the introduction of a child support scheme in the late 1980s, there was an ongoing campaign against what was seen as an inequitable system, especially towards non-custodial parents, invariably fathers. Soon after my election to Parliament, I was appointed to an inquiry into the scheme. The crossparty committee agreed that there were inequities that should be remedied. Yet within an hour of the release of the report, the then Minister categorically ruled out any substantial change. Apart from the substantive issues involved, the curt response was unproductive.
- It was part of the reason, I believe, why child support remained a political issue for so long.The issues had not been resolved when the Howard government was elected in 1996. On regular occasions, government MPs would raise the issue in the Party Room. Many of the MPs complaining about the inequity were women. As a consequence, further inquiries were established, leading ultimately to further reforms and the creation of the Family Relationship Centres.
- Whether these centres will fulfil the expectations for them remains to be seen. The government set out a series of key performance indicators at the time of their introduction against which future judgments can be made.”
The Family Relationship Centres can be accessed through Family Relationships Online which:
- “provides all families (whether together or separated) with access to information about family relationship issues, ranging from building better relationships to dispute resolution. It also allows families to find out about a range of services that can assist them to manage relationship issues, including agreeing on appropriate arrangements for children after parents separate.”
As Kevin Andrews says
- “.... there is one lesson that clearly emerges from the events of over a decade. It is that marriage breakdown and child support are the tail that wags the body of family policy.”
In the UK the Local Government Association spokesman said:
- “Colleagues in LACORS are putting together some guidance for registrars to help them provide information to couples on pre-marriage advice services available in their area.”
LACORS have commissioned One Plus One to provide this information. It will be interesting to see whose views it reflects.
Kevin Andrews again:
- “I remarked earlier that there is a danger that government can seduce community groups into becoming its mouthpiece. There is also a danger that government will see the voluntary sector as just an extension of itself.”
Organisations working in the field of family relationships can all too easily be ‘seduced’ into following the government line. Some charities in the UK are little more than government sponsored quangos.
Let us hope the Conservative Party learns the lesson of what occurred in Australia and makes sure that its policy is not just “broadly supportive of the notion that as a society, we should do more to support committed relationships” but actually promotes marriage and preparation before it.
On the one hand, David Cameron said at their recent Spring Forum in Cheltenham:
- “For example, when it comes to poverty, Labour’s approach is just to treat the symptoms by spending more money.
- Our approach is to understand why people are stuck in poverty in the first place, and help them break free by tackling welfare dependency, addiction, debt, poor schooling and above all, family breakdown.
- There is no way this country will prosper in the twenty-first century, let alone deal with the debt crisis if we keep asking taxpayers to foot the £100 billion a year bill for the broken society.”
But on the other hand, in 'Rising to the challenge' - The Conservative local government response to the recession – [launched at the same Forum by the Conservative Councillors Association] the report suggests [page 26]:
- “Looking at social care for families, for example, there is clear and unequivocal evidence that early, targeted intervention into the lives of families at risk yields better results and has the potential for major savings to the public purse. Under the current system, however, families on the border of social exclusion can be the subjects of multiple interventions from several professionals over the course of years. The results of this failure to solve problems are depressing and the cost to the taxpayer is immense.”
It begs the question “So what do you do when 50% of babies are born to unmarried parents, 200,000 abortions occur each year, and the UK tops the European league tables for most of the statistics that reflect fragile or broken relationships and promiscuity?”
It is a bit late in the day - when there is already a pandemic - to be reacting by relying upon ‘targeted intervention into the lives of families at risk’.
It is surely high time the Conservatives started to explain and - indeed, to implement policies in local councils they control - showing how they propose through prevention to bring about a wholesale cultural revolution to overturn the “every choice of lifestyle agenda” of the Labour government, instead of just bewailing the social and fiscal consequences of the pandemic which have been manifestly obvious for a long time, anyway.
The unequivocal promotion of preparation for marriage would signal a good start towards cultural change, provided that the LGA does not try to subvert the policy and revert to the “every choice of lifestyle agenda” of the Labour government - and its recent predecessors - which has proved such a catastrophic failure.
30 Jan 2009
"Why should adults be corralled into an institution invented by a church in which a majority no longer believe? Why should the personal have to become public? Why should the million different shapes that love can take be forced into the Victorian corset of mouldy vows and mildewed sentiments? Since most couples live together before they marry, and therefore few these days believe that bridal white reflects virginal purity, why go through a charade just to please parents, when the cash could pay for a new kitchen instead?
Given the strength, and gathering force, of this trend, who would dare stand against it? Who would want to be a Holy Willie, twitching and frothing at what young people get up to these days, seeking to apply the morality of a judgmental and prejudiced past in these, more liberal and tolerant, times?
But if no one points out the consequences of the marginalisation of marriage, then some of the most vulnerable in our society will be voiceless. For the drift away from marital commitment is part of a broader flight from responsibility which is weakening our society and hitting the poorest, hardest. Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations. But the reason marriage imposes those constraints is to ensure that selfish adults, especially pleasure-seeking males, are placed within a structure which forces them to live up to their responsibilities towards the next generation. A society which expects men to stay married to the mother of their children is a society which places a premium on providing young boys with male role models who embody the virtues of responsibility, restraint and consideration for others.
Children become mature when they grasp the principle of deferred gratification, the idea that greater prizes accrue to those who are prepared to work, wait and share than to those who wish to eat, shoot and leave. When adults behave like children, seeking instant gratification of their desires, abandoning relationships which no longer serve their purposes in pursuit of new, more intense, pleasure they leave children in their wake who have been deprived of the most valuable of inheritances – stability and security in which to grow to maturity.
These nouns may be abstract, but the problems created by the collapse of commitment are not. When I visit primary schools I am struck by how often headteachers point to the increasing numbers of children who, aged five, are incapable of sitting still and listening, who have not learnt how to communicate even basic thoughts and grow frustrated, even violent, when their needs aren't met. The heads I talk to bracket the growth in the numbers of children arriving at school with these disadvantages with the decline in the number of households where both the birth parents still live together. In a sober, entirely pragmatic way they point out that the absence of responsible male role models has a direct effect on the behaviour of the children.
One of the most striking failures of Government over the last 10 years has been the inability of ministers to promote social mobility and make our society more equal. Improving education is crucial to helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their potential. But making schools better isn't enough, as any teacher will tell you. The early years matter hugely, and children deserve the care of both the adults who brought them into this world...........
If we're all reviewing our economic perspectives in the wake of the credit crunch, shouldn't we also extend that same process to our most intimate concerns? Shouldn't we see personal relations less through the prism of celebrating freedom and maximising pleasure and more as a means of growing through sharing? Support for marriage should actually be a cause behind which progressives rally. We may promise to wed for richer, for poorer, but we all live in an impoverished society if more and more people choose to put me before we."
On 30th September 2008 at the Conservative Party conference, Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the family, one of Michael Gove's team, announced a new policy:
"Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too."
This fits well with what Michael Gove is saying. But where is the action? There has been a deafening silence from the LGA for four months now.
If the Conservatives want electors to believe them, they must show some signs that they mean business.
31 Dec 2008
My comments on 'Families in Britain: an evidence paper' [December 2008] are set out below. It was published recently by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit and the DCSF and includes the following:
Page 85 - Marriage is associated with successful outcomes
Page 86 - Lone parenthood is associated with less successful outcomes
Page 87 - Stepfamilies are associated with less successful outcomes than biological two-parent families
Page 88 - Parental separation is associated with a range of adverse childhood, adolescent and adult outcomes for children e.g. in terms of cognitive development, education and labour market disadvantages
Page 85 [married couples] are happier, less prone to depression and suicide and live longer.
Government Ministers have become so accustomed to parroting the mantra "we shall not promote one type of family structure over another", that no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary, they are blind to it, even when it is in their own documents.
Ironically, of course, the government doesn't adhere to this mantra, as it tries desperately to halt the increase in teenage motherhood and the spread of sexually transmitted infections with ever increasing quantities of contraceptives.
If the evidence does not endorse teenage motherhood as a good basis for healthy outcomes for children, why not promote the structure which does, rather than the alternatives that have outcomes closer to those from teenage motherhood?
(The National Statistics [published on the web 28th February 2008] 'Trends in suicide by marital status in England and Wales,1982-2005' Abstract states, "A protective effect of marriage has been observed in a number of previous studies .......... despite changes in marriage patterns over the last 25 years, those who are married still have the lowest risk of suicide, and there has generally been no obvious decline in the difference in suicide rates between those who are married and those who are not.")
You might think with the evidence from a number of studies about the "protective effect of marriage" that the Ministers promoting a report entitled 'Families in Britain: an evidence paper' would want to draw attention to the "protective effect of marriage", but, not a bit of it, the Ministers use the opportunity in their Foreword to calmly spin the evidence away from married couple relationships - which the evidence supports - towards 'diversity', which it does not.
A further example of spin is on Page 99, with "Life Event Marriage/cohabitation"; this is a conflation of two entirely different events, only one of which is to a publicly committed and enduring relationship.
This conflation of marriage and cohabitation lies at the heart of what some bishops are complaining about when they speak of policies that are 'morally corrupt'.
The Rt Revd Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, is reported as saying, "the breakdown of the family is a crucial element in the difficulties of our present society .... The Government hasn’t given sufficient support to that because it is scared of losing votes.... Labour’s failure to back marriage and its “insistence on supporting every choice of lifestyle” ha[s] had a negative effect on society."
An example of this 'negative effect' has been revealed recently: the banks bought into the Government's "every choice of lifestyle" agenda - and created the toxic debt - which now they are too ashamed to acknowledge by publishing mortgage arrears figures by marital status. The previous generation of bankers would never have lent money to cohabiting couples with inherently unstable relationships in the amounts which have been advanced in the last decade. Toxic relationships are behind the toxic debt and the financial meltdown.
On a practical level, the MPs, Graeme Allen and Iain Duncan Smith, are jointly promoting 'Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens'. Please ask your MP to support this initiative.
There is common ground developing across the political spectrum in welfare reform with direct payments and 'Self-Directed Support for every child and young person' as described in "A whole-life approach to personalisation". These principles could be applied to supporting marriage and family life.