Callan is Associate Director for Families and Mental Health at the Centre for Social Justice.
Six years ago the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) presented
David Cameron with Breakthrough Britain,
a blueprint for the social recovery of
the UK. Tackling family breakdown was at the heart of the prescription for
reversing social breakdown. The then Leader of the Opposition responded to this
report with an unequivocal endorsement of the need for family stability and the
importance of marriage.
He went into the general election promising to do everything
in his power as Prime Minister to lead to the most family-friendly government ever.
Despite his genuine resolve, when it comes to the most pressing family policy
priority of improving stability there is very little to show from that rightly
Our report, Fractured
Families: why stability matters, published later this week, makes this lack
of delivery depressingly clear. Since 2010, the formation of lone-parent
families has continued to rise, unabated, at a rate of 20,000 per year. By the
time of the next election, we will have crashed through the two million barrier.
The CSJ would be the last organisation to indulge in lone-parent bashing; our
Alliance of several hundred grassroots charities tackling social breakdown
works day in, day out, with parents raising children on their own. They are the
ones who tell us how tough it is, how much harried mums (only eight per cent of
those raising children on their own are dads) would appreciate an extra,
reliable pair of hands in the home on a permanent, committed basis.
For too long a harrowing litany of statistics has been
buried through the fear of stigmatising those who rarely chose to go it alone,
but in so doing we have, as a society, ignored the lack of choice around
parenthood facing so many women and men in low-income neighbourhoods.
Aspirations to marry are solid across the social spectrum, but the cultural and
financial barriers to realise those are almost insuperable, especially in the
pockets of intense disadvantage we identified where up to three quarters of
families are headed by only one person.
That’s why explicitly supporting marriage through the tax
system is not a right-wing obsession or a middle class bribe: marriage is a
social justice issue. When we send the strong signal that commitment matters,
it plays into the hopes and dreams of the poorest – and puts more money into
their pockets, pound for pound, than raising personal tax thresholds. However
popular the latter, we have to be honest that it’s not progressive, but lines
the wallets of higher-income, dual-earners far more effectively than those
struggling on low wages.
And honesty is what this report is all about: three million
children growing up in households where poverty is two and a half times more
likely and is often driven by the breakdown of the family unit itself – women’s
income immediately drops (on average) by more than 10 per cent.
Many of the fathers who have been written off held their
newborn baby in their arms and longed to do a better job than their own dads.
But we found it is all too common for early years and other support services to
ignore young men. When the expectation is that they won’t be involved, they are
told they don’t matter, and they are not wanted, ducking out is far easier than
bucking the trend and the ‘men deserts’ we found make some kind of tragic
It’s simply not true that family breakdown is inevitable –
more relationship support, more local government accountability for stabilising
relationships as part of tackling poverty, a Minister for Families and more
explicit support for marriage and commitment. Eminently achievable – but not
without flinty political will.