31 Dec 2008

Families in Britain: an evidence paper

The DCSF web site reports, "The family dominates public and policy debate and there is much discussion about the state of family in Britain. This paper assembles the key trends and sets out a framework to think about the family. The paper aims to provide a framework to take stock of family life in Britain and map recent trends and changes as well as explore future pressures on families. It also aims to understand what lies behind headline trends and to understand the implications of these. This paper and the family policy principles it sets out will hopefully stimulate further discussion which will continue to inform the Government's work and underpin the ambition for a truly family-friendly Britain."

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.

17 Aug 2008

The Sub-Prime cohabitation crisis and "The Emperor's New Clothes"

"An emperor who cares too much about clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for his position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capital show off his new "clothes". During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, "But he has nothing on!" The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth."

The conflation of cohabitation and marriage - strongly promoted by HMG [Her Majesty's Government] - with its mantra "We shall not promote one type of family structure over another" is bringing its chickens home to roost. HMG - indeed many politicians and City and Wall Street "insiders" - are faced with a dilemma. Do they admit they were inept and have been proved profoundly wrong in their acceptance of the mantra, or do they continue to ignore the research evidence and hope what is a still "a cloud no larger than a man's hand" evaporates?

Cohabiting couples who are in arrears with their mortgage payments have precipitated the mortgage/credit/economic crisis. Why them more than married couples? Well, the research evidence - though not yet conclusive - points in the direction of cohabitants as the culprits. Please follow these links:

[1] "Are the Sub-Prime, Northern Rock, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiascos connected with the increase in cohabitation?" [article and comments]

[2] "Cohabitation is not the same as marriage; most importantly, cohabiting couples break up at a much higher rate than married couples".

[3] "Cohabitation vs. Marriage: How Love’s Choices Shape Life Outcomes" [Top Ten Findings]

The Economist reports "For much of this financial crisis, America’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has cut a pathetic figure, relegated to the sidelines as a hyperactive Federal Reserve tried a variety of creative measures to keep the system afloat. When the market watchdog finally did get in on the act, it was highly controversial: a temporary order restricting short-selling the shares of 19 financial firms deemed systemically important, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two troubled mortgage agencies" [Not to mention Northern Rock in the UK].

The "short-selling" of marriage has been the real scandal, and this goes way above and beyond the Securities and Exchange Commission. All the "Emperors" who have all allowed themselves to be deceived about this will need to address the issue sooner or later. The institution which is "systemically important" is marriage. Attempting to legislate against bucket shop type operations without attending to the real issue is futile.

25 Jun 2008

Lies, damned lies, teenage pregnancy and abortion

"The number of abortions, including among young girls, has hit a record high, official figures showed.

Procedures to women living in England and Wales have increased across all age groups since records began, the Department of Health confirmed.

Yearly figures showed the number of abortions among girls under 14 rose 21%, from 135 abortions in 2006 to 163 in 2007.

There was also an 11% rise among girls aged 14, from 907 abortions in 2006 to 1,008 in 2007. Furthermore, there were 3,205 abortions to girls aged 15 in 2007, a 9% increase on the 2,948 in 2006.

Among all girls aged under 16, there was a 10% rise, from 3,990 abortions in 2006 to 4,376 in 2007.......

Across all age groups, there was a 2.5% increase in the number of women living in England and Wales having an abortion, from 193,700 in 2006 to 198,500 in 2007, today's figures showed.”

Despite its failure, the sex education lobby is fighting back:

“Based on information from 70% of English Local Authorities, the SEF [Sex Education Forum], the national authority on sex and relationships education (SRE), based at NCB [National Children’s Bureau], found that of the 2,185 schools surveyed, 29% had an on-site sexual health service.

Confidential sexual health services on the school site make it easier for young people to get help with problems early. Health professionals build on what young people learn in SRE by giving young people crucial one-to-one advice about their health and wellbeing as well as access to contraception, pregnancy and STI [Sexually Transmitted Infections] testing services if needed.

Research confirms that the combination of good SRE in schools, linked to easily accessible, confidential, sexual health services is key to reducing teenage pregnancy rates and improving sexual health."

Not surprisingly, this mantra is being echoed enthusiastically and unquestioningly by writers in dozens of newspapers and journals.

But, in a response to comments made by the Government concerning his research

Professor David Paton, an economist at the Nottingham University Business School, wrote:

“In March 2002, a paper was published in the Journal of Health economics entitled “The Economics of Family Planning and Underage Conceptions (Paton, 2002). In this paper, an economic model of rational choice was presented which suggested that “improving access to family planning can have an ambiguous impact on underage conception and abortion rates” (p. 223). In the rational choice model, the reason for this ambiguity is that access to family planning may increase the likelihood of young people engaging in sexual activity in the first place. I tested this model on a panel data covering UK regions between 1984 and 1997. Over this period, I found no evidence that the provision of family planning reduced either conception or abortion rate for the under 16s.”

Professor Paton concluded in his subsequent research paper:

“The discussion in this paper makes it clear that the sources cited by the Government do not support the Government’s assertion that international research contradicts the findings in Paton (2002). Rather, it would be fairer to state clear that the international research has not come to any strong conclusion relating to the impact of access to family planning services on teenage pregnancy rates. The strongest evidence available in the sources cited by the Government, together with evidence from other well-regarded studies, far from being contradictory, is perfectly consistent with the key finding of Paton (2002) that increased access to family planning does not reduce underage pregnancy rates.”

Needless to say, the BBC follows the herd by parroting:

“Government advisers called for high quality sex education at school and investment in contraception services for young people. ............”

Rather than refer to an earlier BBC report:

Dr David Paton, of Nottingham University Business School, said:

"We found that as you increase access to family planning services pregnancy rates for this group either do not change or there is some evidence they go up.

"They certainly don't decrease which is what the government wants. It seems family planning seems to encourage more people to have sex, which teamed with a high contraceptive failure rate can cancel out any gain."

Professor Paton comments:

‘One of the problems with research on sexually transmitted infections is that we only have data on diagnoses and not on actual infections. With some of these infections, most notably chlamydia, there are often no symptoms at all. It could be that the increase in diagnosis rates just reflects the fact more young people are aware about diseases like chlamydia and are getting themselves tested.’

‘In fact, the notable feature about my results is that I found a significantly positive correlation between increases in family planning services and increases both in rates of chlamydia and in rates of those sexually transmitted infections where the symptoms are more noticeable.’

One explanation for these results is that easier access to family planning for young people may have been partly responsible for the increase in risky sexual behaviour among young people. The increase in this risk-taking behaviour may then have outweighed any positive impact of family planning policies.”

On 4th January 2008 Professor David Paton said:

"The underlying social deprivation of an area, family breakdown rates and religion seems to have a greater effect on teenage pregnancy rates than more obvious policies such as sex education or providing access to family planning.

"There has been a tendency for the Government's teenage pregnancy strategy to focus on creating schemes where teenagers can get the morning after pill or other forms of family planning at school or clinics.

"The danger with this sort of approach is that it can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour amongst some young people.

"There is now overwhelming evidence that such schemes are simply not effective in cutting teenage pregnancy rates."

Professor David Paton repeated his comments more recently [19th June 2008]:

'Pretty much all the research on school-based family planning clinics suggests they have little or no impact on teenage pregnancy rates.

'There is a possibility that such services change the behaviour of some young people and may increase risk-taking sexual behaviour.'

Fortunately, David Cameron is reacting with more sensible proposals:

“One way is to start early - and insist, for example, that there's no sex education in schools unless it includes relationship education.”

One of the most effective writers is a parent:

“I think if parents are to be successful in raising counter-cultural kids, they need to work out how their kids are going to survive the indoctrination offered by the school system - or else remove them from the line of fire...........

At the top of my mind today is sex education. We had a parents’ evening meeting about it at my childrens’ junior school, and I was frankly outraged at what is being done.As part of this, we were shown a ‘tasteful’ video which the kids were going to see, including a cartoon couple having sex.

If anyone but a teacher were to make my kids watch videos of people having sex, he would be put on the sex offenders’ register.

We were also given a handout which included the claim that ‘Research has shown that sex education helps to reduce teenage sexual activity.’

When questioned the head was unable to refer me to that research - he had simply copied the quotation out of the booklet supplied with the video.

To his credit he was embarrassed to admit this...

On further examination, the booklet offered no reference to research to back up the claim either.

Moreover the booklet was produced by Brook.

Much of the research evidence I have seen suggests that early and explicit sex education is a co-factor with early sexual activity, as is the provision of the services that Brook offers.

In an age of evidence-based medicine it is extraordinary that the response to the failure of the government’s sex education strategy (soaring levels of STDs among teenagers, for example) is to try more of the same....

I had a further meeting with the head, who admitted the school’s policy was a fudge, and I sent him this letter as a follow up...

Dear Mr **********

Sex and Relationships Education

Thank you for making time to see me at such short notice this morning, and also for the courtesy and understanding with which you discussed my concerns.

As I mentioned, [my wife] and I having discussed this further, we would now like to confirm that we will be withdrawing [our children] from all parts of this programme which are not compulsory as part of the National Curriculum.

I thought it might be helpful to summarise those concerns, as you mentioned you may wish to discuss them with the County Advisor.

The primary concern is the ideological one. On one side there are those like me who believe that we should be educating our children for life-long monogamous marriages; on the other, those who want to see children as informed, active, consumers of sex.

If you think I am over-stating the position, look at the www sites for fpa and Brook, where they make their position, including condoning under-age sex, very explicit. They are advocates of children’s right to enjoy their sexuality, and are among the country’s leading campaigners for and providers of abortion.

It is evident that Brook and fpa talk the language of ‘relationships’ to get their material past parents: there is none of that concern in their www sites. But of course any teenager can convince himself that the current infatuation is ‘a meaningful loving relationship.’ That kind of thinking provides no protection against promiscuity - but then it is not intended to.

The middle ground is made up of those who would prefer children to delay having sex and not be too promiscuous, but believe that they can’t be stopped. That risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy, transforming the historical pattern of a very small number of children being sexually active into a much larger number being so.

The evidence on early sexual activity and multiple partners seems pretty clear: the two go together, and are an unhealthy combination, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Oddly, Brook and fpa, who are so keen to deal in fact, ignore these facts absolutely - as they ignore the research which shows that 70% of girls who engage in sex early (pre-16) regret it later on and wish they had waited.

These different ideologies naturally lead to radically different approaches to sex education. I believe sex is private (indeed sacred), and that taboos (and even some things labelled by the government’s experts as prejudices) are often helpful in protecting children from premature exposure to adult issues and from aberrant thoughts and behaviours. The other side believe that anything goes (as long as it is consensual), and that openness and choice are the primary virtues.

Whilst I fully understand that the school has to comply with the government’s directives on this, the government’s view is not the only one, and some research suggests their policy to be ill-founded. I can give you details of that if you are interested (eg Marsilio and Mott’s study, based on interviews with 12000 US children which identified 4 co-factors of teenage sexual activity, of which one was sex education,)

The reason that the government is so keen on pushing this into junior schools seems to be the remarkable failure of it at senior level - indeed the more they push sex education, the more promiscuous the children seem to become with all the attendant physical, emotional and psychological damage that implies. Again, I can supply data showing the increase in teenage promiscuity coinciding with sex education, and also with the existence of Brook Advisory Centres in a locality. For example, those areas targeted by the government with special measures have seen greater increases in teenage conceptions (Oxfordshire 7.3%, Cornwall 16.4% and Torbay 22.4%) I can also supply research questioning the lessons drawn from the Dutch experience (which may be the source for the research cited in the booklet you quoted).

My second major concern is the psychological impact of sex education at this age. The risk is that it disrupts the children’s latency period - a development period widely acknowledged by psychologists when they are not naturally interested in sex. Many psychologists see the disruption of this by sex education as abusive and dangerous. For one psychologist’s assessment of this, see Melvin Anchell’s Killers of Children. I believe our children have a right to stay children and stay innocent, and that the fact that there are commercial interests desperate to turn them into adolescent consumers earlier and earlier should not drive education policy.

The third area of concern is the philosophical one. The whole approach explicitly outlaws any absolute moral teaching (We don’t judge others, we respect the choices of others...) in the sexual realm. It is curious, then, how ready the same non-judgmental policy condemns behaviour of which the government really disapproves (bullying, discrimination). In fact the implicit lesson of this whole approach is that sexual morality is subjective. This begs a massive philosophical question and risks teaching an absolute answer (ironically!) to children before they are even able to comprehend the issues at stake.

It seems to me therefore that the schools are being used by one side of an ideological debate, that the evidence supporting what you are required to do is, to say the least, unproven, and that the government is in effect experimenting with our children with potentially very grave consequences.

I can supply the research references for all the claims made above, if that would be helpful to you. Thank you once more for the time and trouble you took to understand and engage with these concerns and to explain where the school stands and how it intends to proceed.”

Letter ends.

What can we suggest to teachers they might usefully teach about relationships? There are plenty of rich sources within English Literature, History and Religious Studies. No doubt enlightened teachers use the opportunities these provide. Schools should develop a holistic approach, exploring and discussing relationships in the subjects mentioned above, making it a part of the ethos of the school.

For those interested in Jung’s idea of synchronicity, the readings on Sunday from the Common Lectionary were Genesis 21: 8-21 and Matthew 10: 24-39. In the first, Abraham drives out into the wilderness his first born son, Ishmael with his mother, Sarah’s maid, Hagar. In the second, Jesus says he comes not to bring peace but with a sword to divide families. Tough messages. Families are rapidly divided if the members retain tribal attitudes and fail to mature. Children, like Ishmael, become fatherless. All manner of poor social outcomes ensue. We are living with the consequences.

The sex education lobby is a new tribe of delinquents who think they can help people mature by dishing out condoms and morning after pills, despite the evidence to the contrary. When will the experiment end?

24 Jun 2008

Strengthening our society

David Cameron said in a speech recently:

“The number one challenge we've got in this country today is to strengthen our society. There is no more important way of doing that than strengthening families, and there's nothing more important to families than the strength of their relationships...........”

This might be considered to be self-evident, based - on the one hand that much of the press and other media are preoccupied with celebrity weddings and marriage and relationship breakdowns, and - and on the other by the number of bleeding heart journalists and other dignitaries demanding the government tackle child poverty, single parent poverty, fuel poverty, pensioner poverty etc. and then arguing that poverty is the main cause of broken relationships.

If David Cameron is right – and I believe he is – about “strengthen[ing] our society” being “the number one challenge”, and “there's nothing more important to families than the strength of their relationships”, one might expect the press and other media to be equally interested in the possible solutions that are being tried and the research that has been done into them.

Not a bit of it; the last thing with which the press and media are concerned is solid research: volatile opinion polls, “Yes”, but hard evidence, “No”!

Despite protestations to the contrary, politicians are not much better than journalists. Take for, example, Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice in a written answer about domestic violence:

“There is no evidence available regarding the effectiveness of accredited programmes, which are delivered within England and Wales. The drop out rate in the year 2007-08 was 37 per cent. This is an improvement from previous years. We do not hold information for local projects.”

A 37% drop out rate for expensively government funded relationship education programmes with “no evidence available regarding the effectiveness”!

One is entitled to ask why the government is promoting such programmes in preference to marriage preparation and relationship education courses to couples visiting register offices. The drop out rate from marriage preparation programmes is minimal, though the better the research base behind the programme, the higher the chances that between 10% and 15% of the couples will defer or cancel the wedding. The research shows that these couples have a profile similar to those who marry and divorce within three years.

According to the government’s own estimates, domestic violence:

- accounts for 16% of all violent crime
- will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime
- 77% of victims of domestic violence are women
- has more repeat victims than any other crime (on average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police)
- on average, two women are killed every week by a current or former male partner
- one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004).

The estimated total cost is based on the following:

- The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).

- The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.

- The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.

- The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.

- Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.

- The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don't collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence ......... The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

This is the same Maria Eagle who said:

“we shall not promote one type of family structure as opposed to another”

David Cameron, however, is looking at the evidence:

“In 1996, President Clinton introduced funding for projects that "encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families." And President Bush continued, setting up the 'Healthy Marriage Initiative', which funds 'marriage education services' nationwide. For too long, politicians here have been afraid of getting into this territory, for fear of looking old-fashioned or preachy.......

Family breakdown is of course not the only cause of our present social problems. But let me give you just two figures. A child whose parents have split up is twice as likely to live in poverty. And they're seventy-five percent more likely to suffer educational failure.........Of course not every couple needs relationship support - but many more do need it than actually get it. If you have a nagging headache, you go to the doctor. And I want us to de-stigmatise relationship support so people feel completely comfortable, if they have a nagging difficulty in their relationship, in getting help .......... One way is to start early - and insist, for example, that there's no sex education in schools unless it includes relationship education.

...... it's about creating a positive social norm. In plain English - it's about understanding that one of the biggest influences on our behaviour is what we think is expected by the society around us, and what we see other people doing.”

An example of this – a result of the US 'Healthy Marriage Initiative' - includes

“The healthy marriage initiative in Texas is intended to promote free, skills-based marriage education and provide couples with the tools they need to manage the challenges inherent in relationships. Extensive research has shown that couples who receive relationship education have more stable relationships, thereby increasing favorable outcomes not only for themselves, but for their children.

Classes will be taught in various venues around the region and include eight hours of training focusing on communication skills, conflict resolution and the elements of a healthy marriage. Classes will benefit couples who are seriously dating, engaged to marry and those married for any length of time.

Beginning Sept. 1, engaged couples completing the class will have the added benefit of having the $60 of their marriage license fee waived, and they will not have to wait 72 hours to get married.”

It is excellent news that David Cameron is expecting to tackle the issue of relationship education at a much earlier stage than the present government, including its delivery with sex education, which will not be promoted as a single topic.

However, since the Conservatives control the majority of local authorities, what is there to prevent this process of early provision of relationship education from starting now?

5 Mar 2008

Poverty – is it the cause or consequence of family breakdown?

Martin Narey is chair of the End Child Poverty coalition and chief executive of Barnardo's. He was formerly head of the prison service at the Home Office. He has been appointed by Nick Clegg to chair the Liberal Democrats' commission on social mobility because he is seen as an independent, expert voice, Andrew Sparrow reported in the Guardian on Monday 3rd March 2008.


Guardian: “When Iain Duncan Smith looked at this for the Conservatives, he identified family breakdown as a cause of inequality. Do you think he's got a point or do you think he's barking up the wrong tree?”

Narey: “I wouldn't say he's barking up the wrong tree. I met IDS for the fist time [recently] and I found him enormously impressive. But I would offer an alternative theory, which is that dire poverty leads to family breakdown. Anyone who has brought up children or a family, if you think seriously about what it must be like under such immense financial pressure, I think it's very easy to understand why we have so many marriages that fail.”

In an article in the Daily Mail, James Chapman comments on a study by former Inland Revenue consultants Don Draper and Leonard Beighton, working for CARE. He concludes: "Among highly developed economies, the UK is almost alone in operating a tax system that ignores spousal obligations."


Professor Rowthorn is quoted as saying: "The system is resented because it is so biased against one-earner couples who wish to look after their own children. There is growing recognition that it penalises stable couples and encourages family breakdown and un-partnered childbearing."

Therefore, in so far as Martin Narey’s theory is correct in pointing to poverty being the cause of family breakdown, it is the bias against marriage in the tax and benefit systems that is bringing about much of the poverty, in addition to inherently unstable “unpartnered childbearing” and childrearing.

In a later article [2nd March 2008], also in the Daily Mail, Steve Doughty reported that Don Draper “examined the income of 98 theoretical couples with different incomes ranging from basic benefits to more than £46,000 a year.”


“His report took into account benefits, rent or mortgage payments, and whether a missing father is paying maintenance. Checks of family entitlements against tax and benefit tables used by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that 75 of the 98 families would be better off apart than together. The analysis - which also took into account the additional costs of running two homes - showed that on average the premium for living apart would be £69. A similar study last year found 71 couples out of 98 would be worse off and the extra cost of living together averaged £63. The worst affected families were those where only one partner worked and the other stayed at home to bring up one child. For them, the extra benefits if the family broke up would be worth £95.62 a week.”

Mr Draper said: "These are very considerable sums for people whose incomes may be less than £300 a week. Breaking the cycle of poverty by encouraging the formation and maintenance of stable families would make a major contribution to reducing long-term poverty. Many social problems seem to have their roots in unstable family structures."

The Labour MP Frank Field has calculated that a single mother with two children under 11 on the minimum wage received tax credits that took her weekly income to £487 if she worked only 16 hours a week. A two-parent family with one earner would have had to put in 116 hours of work on the same pay to get the same money.

CARE's report said the extra cost to the Treasury of a couple choosing to stay apart to claim more benefits this year - of whom there are 1.2million - will average £7,732.

Let’s hope Martin Narey – “an independent, expert voice” - looks first at the numbers with a dispassionate eye.

At much the same time [4th March 2008], the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill accused politicians of failing the nation's children by conducting an experiment to "downgrade" marriage.


He says the "great British experiment to downgrade marriage and the family" was showing no sign of running out of steam.

"Our legislators have got a bit careless and they've not noticed that some of the things they've done have not helped home life in our country.

"The tax system works so that if you get married you are penalised.

“We have been dismantling the institution of marriage and saying to our young people it doesn't really matter if you get married."

It is good to see a public figure like the bishop engaging in this important debate. Thus far it has been like a “phoney war” with very few prominent figures willing to enter it. The result has been that the "great British experiment to downgrade marriage and the family" has continued almost unchecked and without serious debate.

There was a debate in House of Lords on Thursday, 28 February 2008 on “Families, Community Cohesion and Social Action”, but not a single male Conservative peer participated.

In an article in the Guardian, “Marital splits are still costly for mothers” by John Carvel, social affairs editor, Wednesday March 5, 2008:


Dr Paul Dornan, the head of policy and research for the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Some have argued the tax credit system somehow incentivises parents to live apart, but that argument is hollow - mothers are worse off after relationship breakdown."

No doubt mothers are worse off after relationship breakdown, but it doesn’t alter the fact that many separated parents receive in total more money through the tax and benefit systems than married couples living together. The question is, “is it fair and sensible for the state to give more money to people raising children apart than those who opt to stay together despite their difficulties?”