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Restore the family to British social policy

Rakib’s Britain: The Left has betrayed its roots by ignoring the evils of family break-down

While I have developed somewhat of a reputation for being a conservative firebrand, I still have residual emotional ties that very much lie with the British Left. 

Being raised in a traditionally Labour-voting household in working-class Luton, I felt that the political Left was on my side — it was my team. Given the disastrous second-referendum Brexit policy and its being in thrall to divisive American-style identity politics, I no longer feel like this is the case. 

For many Labour minority voters, family is what they live for

When I consider the ever-widening disconnect between the modern British Left and traditional ethnic minorities, I often think about how the preciousness of “the family” has been neglected — both in terms of political narrative-setting and social-policy proposals. For many Labour-oriented ethnic-minority voters, the immediate family is not only their primary source of social support — it is what they live for. A considerable part of serving their faith is respecting the duties and responsibilities towards their family members. Family elders, especially grandparents, are usually treated as enlightened sources of knowledge and wisdom — much-adored individuals who are to be treasured. 

This is certainly quite different to what has developed in the mainstream, where rates of family breakdown and intergenerational disconnection are notably higher when compared with many Britain’s ethnic minorities. According to recent Office for National Statistics data, around one in five white-British dependent children (up to the age of 15 years) are part of lone-parent families. To put this in perspective, for Britain’s Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups, this figure drops to 6 per cent, 12 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. 

While the identitarian activists of the discredited Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement are obsessed with portraying Britain as a country plagued by institutional racism and systemic discrimination, they are rather silent over the fact that 63 per cent of dependent children of Black Caribbean heritage belong to lone-parent families. At 43 per cent, it is also at an uncomfortably high rate among their co-racial peers of African origin.

If young black lives truly mattered to social-justice warriors and race-baiting enthusiasts in Britain, then they would explore the impact of relatively high rates of family breakdown and the “fatherlessness epidemic” in London’s inner-city communities. Does the lack of two-parent families and shortage of responsible male role models in the household leave young people searching for a sense of belonging through gang membership? Does gang membership in turn heighten the chances of being involved in unlawful activity? While these are admittedly sensitive questions, they must be asked. 

For the identitarian Left, emphasising the importance of family dynamics undermines efforts to place racial identity at the heart of discussions on social and economic disadvantage. Meanwhile, for radical social liberals (a fair share being in the modern-day Conservative Party), the mildest defence of the family unit is viewed as a threat to their particular brand of feminist ideology and somehow amounts to the vilification of single mothers. 

There are single mothers across Britain doing everything in their power to raise their children in a good and proper way — encouraging them to excel in everything they do and make positive contributions to their local communities. In social policy, however, it is ultimately a matter of what works best. A child belonging to a lone-parent family can go on to achieve great things and live a stable life of peace and prosperity; another child from a two-parent household can go on to be a spectacular underachiever and end up in the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, policymakers ought to consider what kind of family structure is most strongly associated with positive youth outcomes, and the type of household dynamic which is most likely to have a positive impact on young people’s personal development.

A stable family unit remains the finest social safety net known to humankind

The growing evidence in the British context points towards this: family stability is integral to young people’s personal development, with a two-parent household spearheaded by a married couple being the “social model” most strongly linked to childhood family-life stability. Once again, this is not to take away from the incredible love and commitment shown by many single parents towards their children growing up in modern-day Britain. We should push back on the stigmatisation of single mothers (perhaps there should be a greater social focus on grossly irresponsible men who have fathered children but failed to take on the duties and responsibilities that come with being a parent?). 

Rather, it is being honest about the family structures which are most strongly related to positive youth outcomes in important spheres of life such as education and health. While two parents are not always better than one, it certainly heightens the chances of parental duties — the amount of time, energy, attention and resources required to raise children in a solid and proper manner — being “spread out” beyond a single individual. In this context, treating traditional marriage and “fashionable” cohabitation as interchangeable concepts must end. Including both opposite-sex and same-sex marriages in its analysis, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) research has shown that by the time they turn five years of age, over half — 53 per cent — of children of cohabiting parents will have experienced their parents’ separation. Among five-year-olds with married parents, this drops down to 15 per cent.

It is time to recognise that a stable family unit remains the finest social safety net known to humankind. We should be unafraid of saying that a two-parent household led by a married couple is the social framework most strongly connected to family stability and positive youth outcomes associated with school attainment, mental health, physical wellbeing, cognitive development and law-abiding behaviour. This is not reactionary ideology — this is what the existing research is telling us. 

The restoration of the family unit and marriage at the heart of British social-policy thinking is essential in our efforts to foster a more resilient society in the post-Brexit world.

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