WHEN and if a history of contemporary Britain that deals honestly with the cause and effect of social problems is published, it will resemble a sort of suicide note. It will be seen that policies that have bad outcomes were pursued in the face of clear evidence that they do not work, while commonsense ideas and institutions that have stood the test of time have been ignored, damaged or destroyed. Despite Labour holding power for just 34 per cent of the period since 1970, the so-called progressive left has advanced its agenda across everything from education to crime with assiduity, mainly by harrying the Conservative Party to give in to its demands. As negative outcomes became apparent, the policies which caused them were stepped up. The Tories, being largely obsessed by economics, failed to understand the ramifications of society and culture and the revolutionaries therein. Many of these policy surrenders have had disastrous effects on society. At the centre of the folly lies the undermining of the traditional family.
Nearly half of all children now grow up outside a traditional two-parent family, a major report published last month found. The study by Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, found that almost a quarter of families have a lone parent, compared with the European average of one eighth. Of those born in 2000, 44 per cent will have spent some of their childhood up to age 17 outside a traditional family, compared with 21 per cent of people born in 1970. The report found that child poverty in single parent families is double that found in two-parent families: 49 per cent of children in lone-parent families were in relative poverty after housing costs compared with 25 per cent of children living in married or cohabiting families. Indian families in Britain have the least incidence of lone parents at 11 per cent; black Caribbeans have the highest at 57 per cent, followed by white and black Caribbean mixed heritage families at 47 per cent and black African at 44 per cent. White British are 22 per cent.
Single parents spend more than a quarter of their disposable income on housing costs compared with the 15 per cent spent by two-parent families.
The Times published the study as its front page lead. Informed readers may have found this surprising since in 2019 the Times ran a successful campaign to speed up quickie divorces even more. But despite the institution of marriage being the strongest bulwark for family life and health, the tone of the Times report was not pro-marriage, and even Dame Rachel, once described by the left’s house journal the Guardian as a ‘no-excuses traditionalist with Tory links’ appeared not to want the study to come across as being pro-marriage. It concludes: ‘It’s more about the quality of family relationships than the composition or relative position of the family in society. It’s about strong and lasting relationships, relying on each other, and spending time together.’
This is Blairite avoidance waffle, the lingua franca of British civil administration, probably born out of fear of giving offence to somebody somewhere. ‘Family’, meaning just about anything, is what de Souza is proselytising for. No doubt unconventionally structured families can buck the trend and be good, loving and successful, and likewise plenty of traditional married ones can be awful and dysfunctional. That’s life. But ideals are important, and marriage is an official confirmation of identity and responsibility in raising the next generation of children. Moreover policy-makers should study and note statistics and outcomes, and be forthright about what is best for children and wider society rather than seeking to dilute the traditional family.
There is wealth of data, going back to the Seventies, from both sides of the Atlantic which shows that children born outside marriage have worse outcomes. They are more prone to emotional and mental problems, physical abuse, accidents, drug and alcohol dependency, poor educational performance, school exclusion and expulsion, poor impulse control, risky behaviour, violence, amorality and delinquency.
Children from ‘blended families’, made from the wreckage of a previous marriage or relationship, have worse outcomes than children from intact families.
As long ago as 2002, five years into the New Labour cultural revolution, reports in Britain raised the alarm that not enough was being done to promote marriage. Non-married cohabitation and single parenting had risen sharply since the Seventies, and child poverty along with it – this tripled in the 20 years between 1979 and 1999.
There was, it seems, a disagreement at the heart of Tony Blair’s government about marriage, as there was in the Conservative governments that preceded it. Blair made a weak stand for promoting marriage, but the social revolutionaries in his cabinet won the day. The Tories, who liked to talk a good fight about traditional values while moving the country in the opposite direction, had gradually phased out tax incentives for marriage. By the time Tony Blair and Gordon Brown arrived in May 1997, the stage was set for what has been described as the nationalisation of childhood, a huge stepping up of state interference in the upbringing of children. Brown promptly abolished the Married Couple’s Allowance. Welfare and benefit arrangements militated against marriage. The proposals for diktats on child-rearing were, said Blair, a ‘new frontier in the welfare state’. A great windy plan was devised proposing that the government should dictate to parents on their children’s health, education, economic status, behaviour, sexual health and personal development. The old Marxist dream of marrying everyone to the state – with the escalating welfare bill sent to taxpayers – was back in business and the radical feminist left were delighted at the decline of marriage, an institution they regarded as iniquitous. To mark the Trotskyfication of family life, the Department of Education was renamed the Department of Children, Schools and Families. ‘Wraparound’ childcare would be provided so that women could go out to work: miss out on your children growing up while you take part in a hardcore feminist sociological experiment was the message – and often for a pittance in pay.
Of course, none of this technocratic do-gooding turned out well for anyone. The chickens have come home to roost from all that clever-dick ‘progressivism’. Britain today is a dysfunctional society with rising childhood mental disorders and a daily toll of violent crime, stabbings and illegal drug use among young adults. Adult authority has been severely eroded, and the lack of respect and bad behaviour that saturates society can been seen in every vandalised, skunk-reeking town in the country. Urban delinquency that was once the stuff of speculative fiction such as A Clockwork Orange is now far from unusual. Fatherlessness, as even the Guardian was admitting two decades ago, leads to delinquency.
Today’s Conservative government shows no sign of being able to meaningfully tackle this, just as it (and the Royal Navy) is powerless against Albanian boat people arriving on the Kent coast. Boris Johnson, with his three marriages and uncertain tally of children, was probably not the prime minister who could get to grips with the decline of the family, but will Liz Truss be any different?
The traditional family is the bedrock of a stable society. It is therefore no wonder that as it declines we are moving from civilisation to chaos.