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.

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