UK ‘world leader’ in family breakdown

11 April 2019

Christian Concern’s Rebekah Moffett discusses a Centre for Social Justice report which revealed that the UK is a ‘world leader’ in family breakdown.

A study by think tank Centre for Social Justice recently revealed that Britain is a “world leader” in family breakdown, with only around two thirds of all children under 15 still living with both parents. Yet, while most people have become accepting of family breakdown, the effects of it have often gone unreported.

Family breakdown “one of the quickest routes into poverty”

According to the study, which used figures from market research agency ComRes, “the stark fact is that the break-up of family relationships is one of the quickest routes into poverty.” And while government reports have long shown that families that are torn apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those that stay together, little is said or done about it.

In fact, the route into poverty isn’t the only ill effect of family breakdown. The study reveals that children whose parents split up when they are under 18 are 2.3 times more likely to experience homelessness; twice as likely to get into trouble with the police or spend time in prison; 1.9 times more likely to experience educational underachievement; 1.9 times more likely to separate from the parents of their own child/ren; 1.8 times more likely to experience alcoholism; 1.7 times more likely to experience teen pregnancy. The list goes on.

“If figures showed such causal links on this scale in any other area of government,”concludes the study, “there would be a clamour for something to be done.” So why isn’t there?

“Family breakdown is not simply an inevitable consequence of modern society either,” says the study. In fact, in other modern European countries, the number of children living with both parents is much higher. On average in OECD countries, around 84% of children under 15 still live with both parents. In Finland, where same-sex marriage was only legalised in 2017, 95% of children under 15 still live with both parents. Whereas in the UK, as few as two thirds of under 15s still live with both parents.

Unwillingness to tackle the root cause

According to a recent ComRes poll, some 67% of British adults believe that “marriage tends to be the most stable environment in which to raise children.” Not only this, some 83% of British adults say that stronger families are important in addressing the UK’s social problems, and some 60% of single parents say they believe it is important for children to grow up with both parents. But despite this, there appears to be a social silence on the issue.

“In modern Britain, politicians have become very nervous about talking about family breakdown,” says the study. Reflecting the attitudes taught in schools, it has become ‘offensive’ to even question whether family breakdown is a bad thing.

Rather than looking at the root cause of the issue, Parliament instead seems intent on tackling the symptoms of family breakdown: there have been many recent laws and parliamentary bills looking at new ways to bring in benefits, ways to help the homeless, help addressing mental illness, abortion and unwanted pregnancy, policy on drug abuse, ideas about prison reform. But nothing is done to address family breakdown:

“The evidence is clear: family breakdown sits as the backdrop to so many broken lives, entrenching individuals in intergenerational cycles of poverty and instability … Family breakdown is a root cause of poverty and a social injustice that demands the attention and actions of those who walk the corridors of power.”

Too easy to break up

Nearly two thirds (63%) of British adults who are in their second marriage or more agreed that it is too easy to get a divorce today. This comes as the Ministry of Justice has just announced plans that will make divorce even easier, taking away the need for a spouse to provide ‘fault’ in the other’s behaviour and introducing a mere six month wait until a divorce can be registered (compared to a minimum of two years under the current law).

This new ‘no-fault’ divorce (which can easily be seen as ‘no reason’ divorce) will likely contribute to a much higher number of families being torn apart: Coalition for Marriage estimates that the new system could result in another 10,000 divorces per year, that again will put the most vulnerable at risk. Where similar laws have been introduced into American states, divorce rates have soared, resulting in fewer protections for women and children. No doubt the new laws soon to be introduced in the UK will only worsen the problem of family breakdown here.

Penalised for adhering to traditional values

Not only is family breakdown ignored and encouraged by easy divorce, a view of traditional marriage and family is increasingly being locked out of society. The Christian Legal Centre has taken on numerous cases of people who have spoken out in favour of a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, only to then be punished for it.

In the case of Felix Ngole, a former social work student at the University of Sheffield, his posts on Facebook in support for a biblical view of marriage as between a man and a woman led him to be expelled from his course. Similarly, former magistrate Richard Pagewas removed from the magistracy and then blocked from returning to a non-executive role at an NHS Trust for saying – in private – that a child does best with a mother and a father. In the case of Izzy Montague, she is taking on her child’s former school for forcing children as young as five to take part in a gay pride event, ‘celebrating diversity’. She and her family have faced victimisation for their views on family and sexuality.

These are only three cases that we are currently supporting; there are countless more out of the media and behind-the-scenes. But if they demonstrate one thing, it is that increasingly in today’s society, one can no longer express a biblical view of marriage and family without risking being penalised for it.

Is there a solution?

If we are to tackle the issue of family breakdown, the government must first look at the cause of the symptoms rather than simply changing laws to remedy the symptoms themselves. If the government is really keen to deal with poverty, mental illness, teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, etc., then it must look to family breakdown and start upholding a biblical family model.

Second, incentives to separate must be done away with. If family breakdown is to be lessened, the ease of breakdown and separation needs to change. ‘No-fault’ divorce laws must not be introduced and incentives to stay married, with support from counsellors, if necessary, should be brought in.

Finally, upholding freedom of speech and expression must be encouraged. People must be free to speak out in support of a biblical view of marriage. Not only will this encourage open debate and study into the benefits of two-parent families, their views also happen to be correct – children do indeed do best with a mother and a father.

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