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The case for family-centred policy

Rakib’s Britain: Britons want it and Britain needs it

“The case for family-centred policy” is the latest article in Rakib Ehsan’s online column for The Critic, “Rakib’s Britain”. The previous article, on the soul of conservatism, can be read here.

Whilst the Conservative Party leadership contest has all too often descended into a tax-cutting arms race and unedifying cheap shots, there are actors in British civil society who concentrate on tackling the root causes of many of the social and economic ills we see today.

At the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), we take this problem very seriously. Our organisation’s new report, Repairing our society: A social justice manifesto for a thriving Britain, provides those in government with a clear message: it is time to restore the family unit to the heart of social policy. 

In an age where there is a cultural obsession with placing “protected characteristics” such as race and ethnicity at the centre of debates about social and economic disadvantage, we believe that this report represents a timely and much-needed intervention. 

Passionately defending the family unit, and alluding to what British academic Dr Tony Sewell once referred to as Britain’s “fatherlessness epidemic”, Repairing our society says:

Family is the bedrock of our society. And yet the rate of marriage is at its lowest level since records began, according to the Office for National Statistics. This is despite overwhelming evidence showing that stable, two-parent families provide the best start in life for children. Half (49 per cent) of lone parent families are in relative income poverty — many children in this country are experiencing the impact of “Dad deprivation”.

The figures speak for themselves when it comes to the decline of family stability in Britain over the last half a century or so. In 1971, the UK had 570,000 one-parent families — 50 years on, in 2021, this figure reached 3 million (which accounted for 15.4 per cent of families in the UK, rising up to 17.8 per cent in North East England). 

In 1975, the UK Government estimated that 1.8 million children were living in poverty. For 2020-21, this had increased by more than double to 3.9 million.

The marriage rate (opposite-sex couples, persons marrying per 1,000 unmarried males/females aged 16 years and over) for males had a 1970s peak of 78.4 (year 1974). In 2018, this had plummeted to 20.1. For females, the 1970s peak was in 1972 — 60.5. This dropped all the way down to 18.6 for 2018. In this context, treating traditional marriage and “fashionable” cohabitation as interchangeable social arrangements must end. 

Including both opposite-sex and same-sex marriages in its analysis, previous CSJ research showed 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. Family structure matters.

Fresh Opinium polling commissioned by the CSJ for Repairing our society found overwhelming support for family-centred policymaking to be prioritised in the government’s agenda. Based on a nationally and politically representative sample of 2000 British adults, the survey suggests that much of the public understand the importance of family stability and want this to be reflected in the policies implemented by their elected representatives. 

A majority of the British public — 52 per cent — believe that the next PM should reform the tax system to give more financial support to families (such as bigger tax breaks for couples with children). Whilst how one voted in the June 2016 referendum on EU membership remains something of a dividing line for certain socio-political attitudes (especially those on matters of race), the majority of Leave and Remain voters support this policy proposal — 53 per cent and 56 per cent respectively. 

Family-centred policy would command support across voting groups

Whilst 17 per cent of the public disagree that the next PM should create a new “Office for Family Policy” to ensure all government policies support family life, 50 per cent agree that this should be created, with this commanding equal amounts of support within the Leave-voting and Remain-voting sub electorates (51 per cent each).  A plurality of Brits — 42 per cent — agree that the next PM should announce a new plan to reduce family breakdown and build stronger families. Interestingly, those who are intending to vote Liberal Democrat in the next general election are most likely to support this (52 per cent). Perhaps there is a quiet family-oriented traditionalism that underpins much of the support for Sir Ed Davey’s party?

The survey data tells us that the introduction of a family-centred social policy agenda would command considerable support across a diversity of voting groups. Indeed, after years of studies highlighting the persistence of Leave-Remain attitudinal divides, it appears that the need to prioritise family stability in modern-day Britain unites us. 

There is great potential for cross-party co-operation in the sphere of family policy, with the survey data showing that there is little electoral risk in politicians doing so. There is an inclusive social justice traditionalism — one that appreciates the immense value of family stability to the resilience of communities — that spans different party-voter affiliations.

It is time to conclusively reject modish pseudo-intellectual critiques of the importance of family structure. A two-parent home spearheaded by a married couple remains the social model most strongly associated with stable family life and positive youth outcomes, such as school attainment, mental well-being, cognitive development and non-involvement with crime. 

Britain is in need of repair, and it is family stability that holds the key. 

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