The report from Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice policy group is covered widely in this morning’s media and there is a warm welcome for its findings from traditionally Conservative newspapers. Interestingly leader-writers at The Independent are also supportive and they dismiss yesterday’s nonsense that IDS was being negative about gay families. Most attention has been given to the report’s findings on family breakdown but the report identifies five major paths to poverty. A blog posting cannot do justice to the findings of a 300,000 word report but posted below are a few salient facts for each of the report’s paths to poverty:
- Alcohol consumption has doubled in fifty years and by 15 per cent in the last five years alone. Alcohol is more than 50 per cent cheaper than it was in 1980. Young women have doubled their consumption in the last 10 years.
- 8.2 million people in the UK have an alcohol disorder and over a million children are living in homes with alcoholics. Over 45 per cent of 14-15 year olds have consumed more than five drinks on a single occasion in the last 30 days. Between 3,000 to 4,000 young people aged 11 and over were admitted to hospital for alcohol related illness in 2004.
- Around 1.5 million children are growing up in substance-abusing households – over a million with parents abusing alcohol and around 350,000 where there is drug-taking.
- Nearly three million of the adult population have some form of alcohol dependency and 8 million have an alcohol use disorder.
- Respondents with a history of drug or alcohol addiction were more than twice as likely to have experienced personal debt than the general population.
- Iain Duncan Smith’s conclusion: "Britain is experiencing an explosion in addiction. The current scale of prevalence of alcohol and drugs is historically unprecedented in its combined presence in the population. Young adults are engaging in a new culture of intoxication."
- Through means testing and tax credits, Labour has prioritised shifting those just below the poverty line to just above it. However, this policy has led to more families dropping back to below 40 per cent of median income, widening the social divide.
- Much of the reduction in unemployment is due to individuals moving into jobs with short hours and low pay, meaning that they must rely on tax credits to avoid poverty.
- In their 2001 manifesto, Labour boasted of one million children lifted out of poverty. By 2005, Ministers were claiming two million. In fact, the official 2005 figure was 700,000.
- Iain Duncan Smith’s conclusion: "It is not enough just to keep people from falling into the abyss of absolute poverty. To remain one nation, it is essential we should all have the chance to climb the ladder, but to do so with a sense of togetherness."
- Despite huge increases (in funding), this country has one of the highest levels of educational inequality in the Western world and the attainment of our lowest achievers has not improved significantly since 1998.
- Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are five times more likely to fail academically compared with their peers.
- Children who have suffered family breakdown are 75% more likely to suffer educational failure.
- 55,000 pupils miss school without permission every day.
- Iain Duncan Smith’s conclusion: "New Labour’s strategy may be good for middle class children, but it is bad for society. There has been very little done to tackle the most ingrained forms of educational failure."
- Some 10.7 million people in Britain suffer relationship problems as a result of debt.
- Personal lending has now reached £1.25 trillion, the equivalent to an average debt per household of £50,000.
- A recent Bank of England survey estimated that nearly 6 million people felt they were currently struggling with their finances.
- Iain Duncan Smith’s conclusion: "An energy crisis, a recession in the US, a global terrorist incident or a substantial fall in house prices could change the economic climate plunging many more people into a severe debt crisis."
- The dissolution of cohabiting partnerships is the main driver behind lone parent family formation in the UK. Nearly one in two cohabiting parents split up before their child’s fifth birthday, compared to one in twelve married parents.
- Three quarters of family breakdown affecting young children now involves unmarried parents.
- The impact on crime is illustrated by the fact that 70% of young offenders come from lone-parent families and levels of all anti-social behaviour and delinquency are higher in children from separated families than in those from intact families.
- Family breakdown represents a significant economic burden. The cost to the country is now ell over £20 billion per annum.
- Iain Duncan Smith’s conclusion: "We reject the comfortable mantra that policy can or should by wholly morally neutral on the grounds that this is unworkable in practice. Although moralising is to be avoided, committed relationships are essential for the social ecology of the family, the community and the country. Families which are formed on the basis of these should therefore be encouraged."
David Cameron has welcomed the report as "powerful and convincing". It’s a big day for the Tory leader as he embraces a traditional conservative belief in the family after distancing himself from some other traditional Tory beliefs in his first year as leader.
Few will question the social justice policy group’s finding that family breakdown is a driving force behind social injustice. More controversial will be IDS’ suggestion that the erosion of marriage is the driving force behind family breakdown. Radio 4 Today reporter Norman Smith produced a good analogy this morning. Explaining the report’s findings to Jim Naughtie he said that Mr Duncan Smith hoped to question society’s indifference to marriage in the same way that society’s unquestioning acceptance of multiculturalism had been overturned in the last year. This report is a statement of the problem – solutions will come in the SJPG’s report later in the year. But if you want a summary of the solution see the clipping on the right from Fraser Nelson’s column in yesterday’s News of the World: "There is no welfare scheme in existence that fights poverty better than a two-parent family." Absolutely true.