27 Feb 2007

Tony Blair disputes "general social breakdown"

"Marriage policies 'not the cure' " screams the BBC, affronted that anyone could possibly dare to challenge its attempts to bury any discussion of 'marriage'.

Poodle-like it presents the debate which has at long last started - thanks to David Cameron - from the perspective of the Prime Minister. But let's give credit to Andrew Selous MP who first demanded there should be a debate in November 2003.

At his monthly press conference Tony Blair said, when it came to the most dysfunctional families who were "shut out" of mainstream society, specific intervention was needed at an early stage.

"In my view, the debate is not about marriage versus lone parents. The debate is about how you target measures specifically on those families some of whom will be lone parents - but some of whom will be couples."

As usual Tony Blair talks about how to 'target measures specifically on .... [dysfunctional] families some of whom will be lone parents - but some of whom will be couples', rather than promoting universal marriage and relationship education. The former is not only patently what is not required, and the latter is also what the wiser members of Parliament - across the political parties - have been saying for twelve years or so. Which policy is more likely to stigmatise lone parents?

If Tony Blair is right - and there is no 'general social breakdown' - how is it that West Yorkshire police are having to deal with 35,000 reported incidents of domestic violence each year? Why is it that one in five pregnancies are aborted? Who says that the 42% of children born to parents who are unmarried would not prefer their relationship to be an enduring one? Why is the UK in bottom place in just about every league table that might be used to measure 'social capital' in western democracies? And - possibly most telling of all - why have the Downing Street website gurus erased all references to its social capital project?

The Conservatives control the Local Government Association. So why aren't Conservative LA's promoting marriage education programmes through Register Offices in which they have paid staff? And why isn't David Cameron and the LGA demanding that a full range of indices and neighbourhood statistics are published so that local changes in social capital can be properly measured?

I'm sorry there is still such a long way to go. But at least and at last the debate has begun.

15 Feb 2007

"A Culture of Child Abuse" by The Revd David Keen

The Revd David Keen starts his blog [14/2/07] :

"The UNICEF report on childhood in Britain, putting us bottom of 21 nations in terms of children's well being (a composite of poverty, health, safety, education, family, risk behaviour and happiness), is grim reading."

Splendidly he concludes:

"Finally, (really finally), if anyone knows some good marriage preparation/parenting course material, please send in a comment. One of the best practical responses we can make as a local church is to provide decent marriage prep and parenting support. "

Would that several thousand more Ministers decide to issue the same invitation!

Let's hope the UNICEF report also prompts some responses to the poll at this blog. Surely we should be trying to measure our progress - or lack of it - in this vital area, not just nationally but by school and neighbourhood?

But measuring changes in social and domestic cohesion is not on the political agenda in the UK. I followed a link from:




and got:

"We are sorry. The page you are looking for cannot be found. It might have been removed, had its name changed, or may be temporarily unavailable.

Click on this link to return to the
http://www2.blogger.com/www.number-10.gov.uk home page.

If you followed a link from this site to get here, please contact the Number 10 Webteam:
webmaster@pmo.gov.uk "

I followed the instructions [2/2/07] , copied the ONS [Office for National Statistics] and received this response today from the ONS:

"I just wanted to check that you got a satisfactory response on this from No.10"

Alas, I had to reply:

"Not a squeak"

It's a great pity, because if 'social capital' and 'social and domestic cohesion' were being measured with neighbourhod indices - like 7 of the 8 indicators of deprivation [see other posts with 'neighbourhood statistics' labels] described by the Social Exclusion Unit - and if the figures had improved in the last couple of years, the government's claim that the
UNICEF figures are out of date would hold some water. As it is, especially with the apparent disappearance of the 'social capital project' altogether, who knows what to believe? It certainly looks as if HMG is keen to suppress any statistics that could be used for an evaluation by neighbourhood of the effects of family breakdown.

It is also surprising that the Opposition have not been demanding the publication of relevant figures, since their sudden conversion to the idea of 'family friendly' policies.

The fable of the [New Labour] grasshopper and the [Compassionate Conservative] squirrel is instructive.

13 Feb 2007

Social exclusion - "force" lone parents into work [strong words at the Guardian] - or encourage them to get married first and stay married?

"......... ministers are fully entitled to now begin examining ways of increasing the pressure on lone parents to rejoin the workforce"

"Mr Hutton [John Hutton - Work and Pensions Secretary] is now in Australia looking at ways in which their church groups and other parts of the voluntary and private sectors have contributed to an apparent success story there. Some will bridle at the government's interest in such options. But if they prove to have been a better way of helping some long-term unemployed lone parents back into work, then it is hard to see what the argument either of principle or of practice against the approach can be" - runs the Guardian leader [Tuesday February 13, 2007].

Perish the thought that "church groups" and "other parts of the voluntary and private sectors may have contributed to an apparent success story" that can be translated to the UK! The prospect seems to stick in the gullets of some Guardian readers, for example:

"No! Forget Thatcherism, the Blairites have now turned to Duncan-Smithism for their inspiration! Churches and charity is not the route to take. What next, the workhouse?"

But what if churches and other community groups can contribute to actually reducing the number of single mothers by providing marriage and relationship education?

Lord Lester's Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill which is an amendment to The Family Law Act 1996 is intended "to make provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent, and for connected purposes." [please see previous item in this blog]

Let us hope John Hutton will be considering the "connected purposes".

Towards the end of last Conservative government, Paul Boateng, then Shadow LCD spokesman in the House of Commons [Hansard Column 484 and 485 24 Apr 1996] said:

“........ there is no preparation at all for civil marriage.......... 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......... ".

This was a sentiment expressed in opposition which has not found any active reflection when in government by New Labour - nor very much, until recently, by the Conservatives - but, 'heigh ho', which of us is always entirely consistent?

Nor does the Church always follow through on its best ideas. The Review of the Year by Dr David Edwards, Provost Emeritus of Southwark, for The 1997 Church of England Year Book, contained a reference to pre-marital couples and to a certificate or agreement between them before marriage:

"It would be no panacea, but it might be useful, if it was made compulsory for the couple to sign and keep a certificate that the main obligations of a marriage between Christians, put in plain language, had been discussed and accepted."

In the recent debate on Lord Lester's Bill [Second Reading Friday 26th January 2007], Lord Desai said:

"When they grant visas to decide entry to this country, Her Majesty's Government should try to have a separate interview with the bride to see whether she is being used as an excuse for coming here. The interview should include people who can facilitate conversation, not only interpreters but socially-skilled people who could reassure the woman that if she tells the truth she will not be victimised."

We can see here the beginning of a convergence of ideas around the value of marriage being voluntarily entered into with "free and full consent" between the parties, and then maintained, and how properly facilitated conversations beforehand about the issues commonly faced in marriage can be used to assist engaged individuals in making a valid commitment to each other.

As John Hutton may discover, they do a lot more of this sort of marriage preparation in Australia - using research-based premarital inventories - than is done here. How else can you demonstrate "free and full consent"?

Furthermore, the research evidence is mounting that preventative programmes are working, though doubtless it will stick in the gullets of some Guardian readers, and - as Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams might say - in those of "the commentating classes of North London".

9 Feb 2007

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill

Lord Lester is proposing an amendment to The Family Law Act 1996 "to make provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent, and for connected purposes."

His associates are saying, "We welcome suggestions and input from organisations and individuals."

Please send your response including your name, organisation (if any) and contact details by 28 February 2007 to:

The Odysseus Trust
193 Fleet Street
London EC4A 2AH
Tel: 020 7404 4712
Fax: 020 7405 7314
Email: info@odysseustrust.org

Background information and the draft Bill, are at the web site above. The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 16 November 2006 and had its Second Reading debate on Friday 26 January 2007. The Bill was committed to a Grand Committee on 5 February 2007.

This is an excellent opportunity for people who believe in preventative measures to ask for any "connected purposes" to be addressed in the Bill.

I am suggesting two additional clauses should be added to section 2 of the draft Bill concerning 'guidance', which starts with 2 (a) the difference between arranged and forced marriage:

(e) the opportunities and advantages for the parties to protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus by participating together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an independently validated psychometric inventory - to assist them in confirming to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage.

(f) 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.

I should be very interested - as ever - to hear the views of any readers of this blog.

8 Feb 2007

13% rise in post-Christmas abortions charity records

Charity records 13% rise in post-Christmas abortions says the Guardian: which is interesting in the context of the previous item on this blog.

Phil Woolas [Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government] said [please see previous item], "the Government do not collect statistics on numbers of family breakdowns outside of divorce, given that relationship breakdowns outside of divorce are difficult to define and record. Community cohesion measurements primarily focus on how well people from different backgrounds get on together in the local area......."

Difficult to define or record abortions? Surely not! Abortions - along with sexually transmitted infections [STIs or STDs - depending on the language you speak] and along with a great many other statistics - such as missing persons and domestic violence - are routinely recorded. They are all manifestations of relationship or family breakdown that could be used to compile an index of social and domestic cohesion.

So why doesn't HMG want to publish such an index in order that changes in neighbourhood social and domestic cohesion or social capital can be measured?

The only possible explanation is that New Labour doesn't like the electoral implications.

"Parliament cannot tiptoe around this matter for much longer" - Alistair Burt MP [Shadow Minister for Communities & Local Government]

Dan Boucher, CARE’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs said, “Given its undisputed positive impact, with all kinds of public policy benefits, we believe that government should work to support and strengthen the institution of marriage in Britain today both through fiscal policy and through greater investment ‘proactively’ in marriage preparation as well as ‘reactively’ through marriage guidance counselling. At the beginning of National Marriage week [5th February 2007] we would urge the government to back its rhetorical commitment to the value of marriage with robust marriage friendly policies.”

On the same day as the launch of National Marriage Week, James Brokenshire (Hornchurch, Conservative) [Shadow Minister - Homeland Security] asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, "how she measures the extent of family breakdown in the context of her policies on community cohesion; whether figures on family breakdown are collected by (a) region and (b) local authority area; and if she will make a statement?"

Phil Woolas [Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government] responded lamely, "The Government do not collect statistics on numbers of family breakdowns outside of divorce, given that relationship breakdowns outside of divorce are difficult to define and record. Community cohesion measurements primarily focus on how well people from different backgrounds get on together in the local area......."

So never mind the fact that there were 35,000 reported incidents of domestic violence in West Yorkshire last year and the year before, let's talk about 'how well people from different backgrounds get on together in the local area'; so much easier to 'define and record'!

The ONS don't even publish divorce figures by neighbourhood or local authority, so the fact of the matter is that HMG is seriously not interested in trying to "measure the extent of family breakdown in the context of .... policies on community cohesion", indeed, nor in any other context.

And this is despite what Phil Woolas said on Thursday 20 October 2005 in a debate about the Social Exclusion Unit, "The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire [Alistair Burt] concluded his thoughtful speech by making some suggestions for the future. I shall certainly respond to his requests. I am particularly interested in his third point, because he said something important. It is clear to us all, and from the evidence and analysis provided by the social exclusion unit, that stability in a child's life is a key driver.......... Government policy is, of course, not intended to discriminate against marriage or family. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that, unintentionally, it may seem to do so and, on occasion, probably does. The policy is for a stable and normal environment for children and young people with difficult lives."

"Government policy is, of course, not intended to discriminate against marriage or family." He must be joking!

[The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, was bitterly ironic at the launch of Mational Marriage Week: "the fluidity and changeability of relationships and the transience of marriage may look perfectly fine if you belong to the commentating classes of north London, but you don’t have to go very many miles to see what the cost is for people who can’t take that sort of thing for granted."]

Alistair Burt had said, "....... let me deal with the toughest nut of all. The Minister talked about digging deeper and thinking more radically, so let me ask him this question. What role does the unit believe family and relationship breakdown in the UK play in long-term deprivation and social exclusion? The Minister and the unit must now realise, after so many of its projects and researches, that such breakdown has had a catastrophic effect, that it is getting worse, and that there are no substantial policy initiatives to address it. There are initiatives to ameliorate the symptoms and to compensate for the losses incurred, but that is not enough. Years of study have now made it clear just how damaging relationship and family breakdown is. The Government, the Opposition and Parliament cannot tiptoe around this matter for much longer."

But they are all still on tiptoe. There are no policies from any political quarter.

4 Feb 2007

"Dismemberment of the traditional family" by the bishop of Motherwell

"Families matter because almost every social problem that we face - soaring teenage pregnancies, abortions and single mums, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, binge drinking, vandalism, violence and crime, the burgeoning of mental illness and sexually transmitted diseases among the young, educational failure, the breakdown in civility, and increasing harassment and contempt for the elderly, the vulnerable and the weakest members of our communities - all come down, in part at least, to the dismemberment of the traditional family.

Consecutive governments' policies, certainly for the best part of two decades, have put our country on the fast track to social dislocation. Inequality has not been reduced. Family breakdown, addiction and dependency have increased. Social divisions have not been healed. Nor can the Conservative opposition take the moral high ground given their earlier opposition to measures aimed at tackling poverty such as the minimum wage, maternity leave and flexible working.

Our governments in Westminster and Holyrood have dared not whisper the terms marriage and the traditional family for fear of being branded politically incorrect by the liberal secular lobby. They have signed up to the dangerous fiction that all lifestyles are equal and that all types of family are equally good at bringing up children. It is time to challenge them to change the direction of their social policies and recognise the damage caused by their compliance with liberal secular policy advisers.

With elections looming, voters must impress on all parties the need to promote family stability through strategies which incentivise and support marriage as well as a socially just, wide-ranging package of policies dealing with poverty reduction, deprivation and exclusion. My vote will go to the party that commits itself to detailed, credible and concrete policies that place marriage, committed parenthood and the family at the heart of its social manifesto. And my public criticism will remain focused on those who do not.

The right reverend Joseph Devine is bishop of Motherwell." He is writing in The Sunday Herald [4th February 2007].

I agree almost completely with the bishop of Motherwell, but the Labour government is also trying to have it both ways: it is deterring teenage motherhood on the grounds that the outcomes for children are poor, whilst at the same time maintaining the mantra "we shall not promote one type of family structure as opposed to another". The outcomes for children of unmarried parents generally are worse than for those with parents who are married, so why not promote marriage and deter cohabitation?

In England the Conservatives control the Local Government Association, so they could be doing much more to promote similar policies to those outlined by the bishop of Motherwell - if they wanted to.

3 Feb 2007

"Race after failure" - "Government have not been tough on the causes of crime"

Hard on the heals of the resignation of Professor Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, comes a debate in the House of Lords [1st February 2007] on 'Reoffending'. A common theme is 'family breakdown', expressed particularly by Conservative Peers.

But when will they get the message that no one is going to believe in 'compassionate Conservatism' until the Party commits to having 'social and domestic cohesion' measured in an index by neighbourhood like the other 7 indicators of social exclusion? People take the trouble to measure and maintain what they really value.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone [Liberal Democrat] who initiated the debate asked:
What is the cost? The Social Exclusion Unit has estimated that the cost to the country of current reoffending is at least £11 billion. The Government have promised 8,000 more prison places to meet this crisis, which will take several years to bring on stream, by which time that, too, will be inadequate. Building the promised new prisons will cost the country £1.5 billion, and each place around £100,000. This is a huge price to pay when building more and more prisons does not and cannot solve the problem. It is merely a race after failure......... Broken families and relationships, and lost jobs and housing are so often the outcome of imprisonment, yet they are the very things on which going straight depends. We further disable people with this form of punishment which in turn creates the very conditions for the ever-increasing reoffending rates.

Lord Ramsbotham said: For years, the received wisdom has been that being near home, a job and a stable relationship are the three factors most likely to prevent reoffending, all of which are put at risk by imprisonment.

Viscount Bridgeman summed up for the Conservatives: This could not be a more timely debate. The prisons are full; potential prisoners are walking free following the Home Secretary’s instructions to the judiciary; Professor Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board has resigned, stating that children’s prisons are being swamped; Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, has stated that the Home Office has failed to carry out proper planning; and the police have recorded violent crime increasing year on year......... the Government often fail to take account of the research evidence that they have themselves sponsored...... Perhaps that explains why, at present, 60 per cent of adult offenders are reconvicted within two years of being released from prison or commencing a community sentence. As we have heard today, for those released from prison, the reoffending rate is higher at 66 per cent and, embarrassingly for the Government, the reoffending rate for those on drug treatment and testing orders stands at an astonishing 89 per cent....... I am sure that we all agree that custodial sentencing is not necessarily ideal. Prison can break up families, impede resettlement and place children at risk of an intergenerational cycle of crime...... The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has previously said—I hope that I cite him correctly—that the three things that are most likely to prevent reoffending are a home, a job and a stable relationship. Programmes that help prisoners to develop skills and maintain contact—that enable all three while providing justice and a deterrent—seem to be the ideal to be aimed at. This House also often comments on young offenders, more than 70 per cent of whom come from broken homes. This is one area in which the Government have not been tough on the causes of crime. The report of the Social Justice Policy Group, under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, entitled Breakdown Britain, concludes that government thinking here, as on prisons, has been short-term. It says:

“The narrow focus on a wholly inadequate poverty target, followed by complacent trumpeting of supposedly major reductions in poverty, has obscured the scale of the problems that have yet to be tackled”.

Poverty, family breakdown, mental health and drug or substance abuse are all undeniable factors in the lives of those who offend and reoffend.

Lord Bassam of Brighton closing the debate for the Government said: We have done much to ensure that family ties are kept up when people are imprisoned. We are developing a cross-government approach to improve support for children and families of offenders to reduce the risk of reoffending, because we understand the important part that family life plays for many of those who have to be incarcerated. That work is being overseen by a joint DfES/Home Office steering group, which will report, as I said earlier, to the inter-ministerial group chaired by my noble friend Lady Scotland and Phil Hope. We have committed a considerable sum of money to ensure that that important work with children and families is undertaken.

So why do members of the Government keep repeating the mantra "We shall not promote one type of family structure as opposed to another" when the evidence shows - as they know it does with teenage motherhood - that the outcomes for children are generally better when the parents are married?