The Daily Mail has advance sight of a 300,000 word report into ‘Breakdown Britain’, written by Iain Duncan Smith and his social justice policy group. The report estimates "the cost of family collapse including the burden of welfare benefits on the taxpayer, the amount of debt incurred by single parents trying to survive, and the price to society of coping with associated problems like drug abuse" at £20 billion every year.
Peter Oborne dedicates his column to the report and writes that it will show that while Britain has never been more prosperous, "a new underclass has emerged over the last generation and is growing with terrifying speed and menace. Drugs are an endemic problem, while drunkenness has now reached a scale not seen since Edwardian times. Social mobility has ground to a halt and educational failure is normal. Duncan Smith argues that none of these issues can be understood until the collapse of the family is taken into account."
The ‘Breakdown Britain’ report does not contain policy prescriptions. They will come later. This report is squarely focused upon the scale of the problem. Oborne concludes with the implications for Project Cameron:
"For while there have been undoubted successes during his first 12 months in office, the new Tory leader has been constantly open to the charge of lurching towards conventional thinking and an already over-populated centre ground. The policy implications of Duncan Smith’s survey demand that Cameron takes a leap in the opposite direction. His decision about how to react may well determine whether his leadership of the Conservative Party succeeds or – like Duncan Smith before him – ultimately fails."
My own belief is that David Cameron will take that leap in the opposite direction. Marriage was a centrepiece of his October party conference speech. He recently identified absent fathers as a cause of violent criminality. There will be some Tories like Tim Yeo who will continue to resist the overwhelming evidence that strong families underpin social justice but these words from David Cameron suggests that the Tory leader does ‘get it’:
"Marriage is a great institution, and we should support it. I’m not naïve in thinking that somehow the state can engineer happy families with this policy or that tax break. All I can tell you is what I think. And what I think is this. There’s something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it’s in a church or anywhere else, what you’re doing really means something. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it’s not just about me, me me anymore. It is about we – together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters."