Family breakdown is not inevitable

Family breakdown is not inevitable

19th August 2014

In setting out his stall yesterday on the family, the Prime Minister drew heavily on the work of the Centre for Social Justice.

We have continually highlighted the devastating social impacts of family breakdown and have put forward robust recommendations for safe, stable and nurturing relationships within families.

We welcome the announcement of a ‘family test’ or ‘family impact lens’ that will have to be applied to all aspects of government policy – it is something we have been calling for since 2007. But if this is to radically transform the social landscape of the nation it will have to pass the ‘stability’ test too. Do policies increase or decrease the likelihood of family breakdown and poor outcomes for children? Because those two things are very closely linked.

Our work in the poorest communities of the UK has shown us that family breakdown is the backdrop to so many broken lives, it can devastate communities and cause lifetime disadvantage – but it is not inevitable.

We also welcome the PM’s commitment to maintain ‘at least’ the present level of funding for effective relationship support – but we will keep pressing for this to increase. This is a bigger investment in stable relationships than any previous government has made, but is dwarfed by the cost of family breakdown – £44bn per annum.

We have been calling for national leadership for the family agenda so making Iain Duncan Smith the champion of the stability agenda is an inspired choice on Cameron’s part.

Local leadership has to be just as strong. We need visionary Directors of Family (not Children’s) Services who will morph their Children’s Centre estate into family hubs that provide on-the-doorstep help for couples to work through their differences.

Crucially the PM refused to cave into the pressure to abandon his support for marriage. We have continually made the case that this as a social justice issue: poorer couples face much higher cultural and financial barriers to marriage than those who are wealthier. We must not fall into the trap of assuming they are freely choosing the more informal – and unstable – relationships when their aspirations to marry are strong.

Given the important signal sent by support for marriage in the tax system the Government must double the level of transferable tax allowance for parents with children under three – and waive marriage fees for couples who do an accredited marriage preparation course.

Finally, the PM is clearly a hands-on dad, regardless of his incredible workload and is making it easier for other fathers to work flexibly and take parental leave. We want him to go further and ensure fathers also have their names on birth certificates and are charged a fair level of child maintenance so they have enough money left over to have their children to stay. Family-friendly also has to mean father-friendly.