Family life is the bedrock of SocietyThe proportion of children born outside marriage has doubled over the last couple of decades to 40%. This matters because children born inside a marriage stand a significantly better chance of not having to live through the experience of their parent’s relationship breaking up: By the time they turn five years of age, over half the children of cohabiting parents will have seen their parents split up, but only 15% of the same age cohort among children of married parents will have to live through that experience.
One of the worst things one experiences as a Member of Parliament is the petitions from parents seeking assistance in what has become a war with their former partners in which access to children has become one of the weapons.Recent law reform delivering ‘no fault divorce’ is designed to remove the adversarial aspects of splitting up, together with the anger and blame that goes with it. If it is successful in doing so, it will be at the very margin. Yet, the impacts are much wider: Irrespective of whether couples are married or just cohabiting, splitting -up is the swiftest route to poverty. Of the problems that are regularly brought to my ‘surgery’, whether they be debt, housing, schooling or whatever, once you scratch the surface, in nine out of ten cases, the underlying cause is family breakdown. A quarter of our families are now headed by a lone parent, nearly all of them women (90%). Half of all the children in England now have to live across more than one household. These sobering statistics compare very poorly with our neighbours – for children in single parent households they are twice as bad as the European average. I’ve often said in this column that there are few levers that governments can pull to solve our problems and that we need to take greater responsibility for our own lives. Nevertheless, the economic and social costs of this disaster in family life should prompt the new PM to ask, ‘to what extent government policy in the design of the tax and benefit system has placed the traditional two parent household under financial strains that are much greater than in similar jurisdictions?’
In essence the answer is that we place a much greater tax burden on them.