Presidential candidate Al Gore described climate change as ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – something people would love to ignore because facing up to such a massive challenge requires profound adjustment.
The enormity of the scale of family breakdown facing the UK and many other developed nations, its financial and human cost, is ‘Another Inconvenient Truth’ – but it is by no means inevitable.
In the UK we spend more money picking up the pieces when families break down than we do on our entire defence budget. Not only is family breakdown both a driver and an effect of poverty, it also entrenches disadvantage and devastates whole communities.
Yet for too long it has been ignored by politicians and policymakers. That is why the Social Justice Division’s Family Stability Review is essential if this and any future government is to grasp the nettle of family breakdown in all its forms.
The impact of family breakdown
Children born into unstable families are more likely to experience behavioural problems, do badly in school, need more medical treatment, become pregnant or a parent at an early age and report more depressive symptoms during adolescence and adulthood.
The effects of family dysfunction, dadlessness and parental divorce or separation can ripple across their lives, leading to poorer mental and physical health and greater difficulties in forming and maintaining their own intimate relationships as they get older.
The impact of family breakdown effects people of all ages. Adults whose close relationships break down can find it harder to work or to progress in work, they are more likely to struggle with serious personal debt and addictions and, ultimately, they will be more likely to face a lonely older age.
And evidence shows the increasing number of stepfamilies is concerning because stepchildren are often far less motivated to care for their stepparents when they become older.
The demographic time bomb
But it’s not just that families need government support, governments need families to function – otherwise financial and care deficits will balloon in size.
This is not a niche issue, especially in more deprived areas. Two thirds of 12-16-year-olds in the poorest 20 per cent of households have already seen one of their parents leave or have never known their father.
This epidemic of fragility is the most worrying demographic time bomb and driver of disadvantage. Tackling family instability is not for the faint-hearted, but this Government should be commended for making a start. Next it must try to get to grips with the root causes of family breakdown, a long-neglected driver of social injustice. Its damaging and far-reaching effects are an inconvenient truth that won’t go away.