Prime Minister David Cameron has recently expressed deep concern about the epidemic of fatherlessness that is currently sweeping our nation.
Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation, has elaborated the cause for concern by setting out some shocking statistics. They are presented mainly in his own words. (They are addressed to Mr Cameron, but should be of interest to us all).
- 45% of teenagers studying for GCSEs are not living with both parents. Source: Understanding Society 2009-2010 data.
- Family breakdown costs the taxpayer at least £47 billion per year. This is a lot more than the government spends on defence and half what is spent on education. Most of this money goes on additional benefits and tax credits that support lone parents. Source: Relationships Foundation.
- 60% of lone parents are on housing benefit compared to 10% of couple parents. Everyone knows that poverty makes family life hard and causes family breakdown. But we’re way beyond the stage of claiming that it can possibly be all about poverty. Family breakdown drives poverty as much, if not more. Source: DWP (table 9a) and ONS (table 1) data.
- For every £100 spent on family breakdown, the government spends 1.5p on trying to prevent it. Compared to the £47 billion spent on family breakdown, DWP spends £7.5 million on relationship support, which includes funding for the counselling service Relate. This is like King Canute’s tide prevention policy. Frankly we may as well not waste our 1.5p. What difference can such a feeble amount possibly make? But it’s even worse than this. Most of this £7.5 million is for couples in crisis. Very little, if any, helps prevent couples get into trouble in the first place.
- Divorce rates are plummeting, yet family breakdown is still rising. How can that be? Yes, an analysis of data from ONS shows that divorce rates are down by 50% in the earliest years of marriage and more than 20% overall from their 1980s and 1990s peak. Yet at the same time the number of lone parents has doubled since 1980. The only possible explanation for this increase is the trend away from relatively stable marriage and towards relatively unstable cohabitation.
- Cohabiting parents account for 19% of all couples but 50% of all breakdown. Source: Understanding Society data. In fact, wherever you look in the world, cohabiting parents are more likely to split up. Less marriage means more lone parents.
- Parents who are married before they have a child are far more likely to stay together….The truth is that if parents want to stay together until their child’s 16th birthday, the odds are stacked in their favour if they clarify their commitment to one another before giving birth – and stacked against if they don’t. Whereas 76% of married parents remain together while bringing up their children, only 31% of those who never marry manage this. Extraordinarily, only 44% of those who marry after they’ve had their baby stay together. Nor do mother’s age and education make any difference. It’s all about whether and when you make a clear formal commitment. Source: Understanding Society.
- Only half of today’s teens will marry, even though almost all aspire to marriage. Ask your kids if they expect to marry at some stage and the most likely response is “yes”. Yet on current rates of marriage, only 52% of them will do so. Compare that to 90% of today’s 60 year olds and you can see how the family breakdown problem is going to keep getting worse unless we address this destructive trend away from relatively stable marriage. My analysis is based onONS data.
- The UK has among the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe. A year ago, an analysis of data from Eurostat showed that we were #1 in Western Europe for family breakdown. Current data shows that we no longer hold top spot, now dropping just below Belgium and Denmark in the West and Latvia and Estonia in the East. But this is no cause for celebration. We’re not doing better. They are just doing worse.
- The most effective family policy is the one that makes one quarter of a million couples pretend to live apart. That’s right. When parents can claim an extra £7,000 in tax credits by pretending to be single, why wouldn’t they? The new Universal Credit does nothing to address this disincentive to family formation. What kind of a policy makes it pay more to live apart than together? You even highlighted this “couple penalty” as a key illustration of why you introduced a five point Family Test just over a year ago. Since then, the couple penalty has got worse.