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?

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