John Hayward Posted: 3 April 2008
Keywords: Sex & Families,
"The long term stability of our society depends on our ability to resolve the crisis within the family. The consequences of family disintegration for the next generation can be seen already in the bitterness and alienation of those brought up with little care from parents and relatives. Violence and human misery escalate."
So wrote Viscount Brentford in the preface to a 1987 Jubilee Centre report entitled Family Networks: Why They Matter and How to Help Them. The Office for National Statistics has now revealed that in the twenty years since, the number of children living in single-parent families has almost doubled. While we have commented previously on the social impact of broken families, we should be equally concerned by the ONS revelation that the number of men and women aged between 25 and 44 who are living alone has also doubled over the last twenty years.
Family Networks identified three of the pressures that militate against the cohesion of the wider family in Western societies: occupational mobility, loss of the family business sector, and erosion of the family's role in welfare. Given that government policy has perpetuated each of these trends in the intervening years, it is little surprise that we now find society even less cohesive.
The report went on to define six achievable policy goals. Sadly, the passing two decades has seen the situation in each case only get worse:
1. Action to alleviate the serious problem of debt: Personal debt in the UK now exceeds £1.4 trillion!
2. More economic resources should be channelled to revitalise regions with high unemployment to enable families to stay where their roots are: Research regularly shows that the poor are getting poorer and the north-south divide is getting wider.
3. The government should take a lead to check enforced job relocation: Even ignoring the fiasco of uncontrolled international immigration, internal migration has increased by 2-2.4% since it was first recorded a decade ago.
4. Allowances for family carers must be improved: The unpaid work of carers was last year estimated to be worth £87bn per year, up 52% since a similar study conducted in 2002.
5. Mergers should be restricted to protect small and family businesses: UK mergers and acquisitions remain at record levels.
6. One day in the week should be protected for family, worship and recreation: Around a quarter of mothers and a third of fathers work on Sundays, with the result that children in 1.34 million families have at least one parent working on each of the days at the weekend, preventing them from spending time with together with their families.
Michael Schluter's original conclusion sounds more urgent than ever: "No matter how great the financial gain of certain economic policies which disregard family needs, the real costs to individuals in terms of relationships are uncalculable. It is time to stop putting economic policy priorities ahead of family considerations. It is time to put our families first."