Official report shows tragic extent of UK family breakdown

2 September 2022

Head of Public Policy Tim Dieppe comments on part 1 of the Independent Family Review, which was published yesterday by the Children’s Commissioner.

The Independent Family Review was commissioned by Kemi Badenoch MP when she was communities minister.

The review highlights the importance of family, rightly saying that the government should prioritise supporting families. However, it also shows the sorry state of families in the UK today.

23% families are lone parent

Currently 23% of UK families are lone parent. That’s nearly one-in-four.

In Europe, the average share of families headed by a lone parent is 13%. The UK is a staggering 10% higher than this.

In the vast majority of UK cases, these lone parent families are caused by relationship breakdown between the parents.

Why is the UK so bad? The lack of government support for family is surely a significant factor.

Family breakdown is damaging for society. It harms the children and often results in poverty.

The report found that lone parent families are much more likely to experience financial difficulties. In 2020, 49% of children living in lone parent families were in relative poverty after housing costs, compared with 25% of children living in married or cohabiting families.

Ethnic and religious differences

There are some significant ethnic and religious differences in the prevalence of lone parent families. Amongst Hindus it is as low as 8%. Sikhs are 13%, and Jews 14%. For those identifying as Christian it is 23%, but ‘any other religion’ is highest at 28%. For those of no religion, lone parents make up 22%, but the portion cohabiting is much higher than for religious people at 23%, which compares with 12% for Christian, and 1% for Hindu.

On ethnicity, Asian descent families do best with the lowest proportions of lone parent families: 10-19%. Black families are most likely to be headed by a lone parent with a rate of 44-57%.

Family structure varies regionally too, from 5% non-partnered births to 31% non-partnered births. Some of this is explained by differences in economics or ethnicity.

Socio-economic status

There is also a strong correlation with socio-economic status. Amongst those with the lowest three categories of socio-economic status, the lone parent rate varies between 28% and 30%. Once you get to the highest socio-economic status, the portion of lone parents declines to 10%. Why would this be? The real question is the extent to which socio-economic status causes family breakdown, or is an effect of family breakdown. We have seen that lone parents are more likely to struggle financially, so perhaps it is no surprise that amongst the lower socio-economic groups there are higher proportions of lone parents?

It is also interesting to note that the employment rate for mothers has increased by almost 10% over the past two decades – from 67% in 2002 to 76% in 2021. Clearly more and more mothers feel the need to work in order to help properly support the family. The employment rate for fathers has increased from 90% to 92% in the same period.

44% children don’t stay with biological parents

Perhaps the most disturbing statistic in the review is the finding that 44% of children born in 2000-2001 did not live with their biological parents throughout their childhood. That’s a huge portion of children who have experienced the damaging effects of family instability. Surely this is something we should work to reduce?

Government should support families

The review has some strong words about the importance of family. Here are some example statements:

“The Children’s Commissioner’s Family Review has confirmed how important families are to children’s outcomes. When they are working well, they are a source of strength, protection and love that allows their members to flourish, even in adversity.”

“Government should therefore be unashamed about wanting to support and strengthen families.”

“Government should pursue a positive vision for family life, with a clear objective for all families to be loving, supportive and prosperous.”

‘Nothing is more important’

The review concludes:

“In the UK today, family has absolute primacy. Family, and its importance, is the unifying factor. It matters to everyone, across geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic lines. There is little that correlates more with a child’s happiness than how happy they are with their family. Little that better predicts their outcomes and chances of success. For children to grow up to be adults that are happy, healthy and contribute to society, there is nothing more important to focus on than family”

This is true. There is nothing more important than family for the wellbeing of children.

What will the government do?

There are no policy recommendations in this Part 1 of the review. I assume that Part 2, when it comes, will include some policy recommendations. Part 1 promises that Part 2 will look at the Family Test which requires the government to assess the impact of its polices on families. We are told that it will propose that the family test needs to be revised.

Sadly, for too long, the government has done little or nothing to promote or support families. In fact, it has done the opposite, finding time in the coronavirus crisis to pass legislation for ‘no-fault divorce. This means enabling one partner to unilaterally destroy the family.

The promotion of alternative family structures and of sexual immorality in society, and most especially in schools to young children, is only working against creating a culture that respects and encourages family.

When Part 2 of the review comes out will the government find the courage to promote and encourage family? Will the government agree that there is nothing more important for children? The cost to society of family breakdown is massive. The most recent estimate from the Relationships Foundation found that the cost of family failure to the taxpayer is £51bn – up from £37bn ten years ago. This includes all the knock-on effects of health, wellbeing, poverty, mental health etc. If the government is keen to save money, one of the best ways of doing this is to support and promote families.

We need cultural change

What is required is not just laws but a wholesale culture change. We need to decide to value marriage (between a man and a woman) as a sacred, lifelong bond, and to promote marriage as the best and most stable and successful structure for bringing up children. Ultimately this will only come with a return to our Christian roots from where these values originally came.

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