Strong families help fight dysfunction.
On Monday 3 November in Auckland, UK family policy expert Dr Samantha Callan delivered a lecture for Maxim Institute about why tackling family breakdown is an important social justice issue.
“I want to talk about what we’re doing in Britain to tackle family breakdown. I’m a long way from home but that’s great, we’re on such a similar page demographically from what I’ve been reading. And we have finally begun to acknowledge the extent and severity of our experience of family breakdown and I think that the seed has truly been sown into the policy-making arena to act on that knowledge to prevent family breakdown as well as to alleviate its effects.
“We’ve been very well received across the political spectrum, especially by the current Conservative opposition which could very easily form the next government. We’ve been working for nearly three years to change the narrative around family to get away from the mantra that says family structure is irrelevant. My publications argue crucially from the research that we will never have the kind of society that genuinely has the welfare of children as its core concern if we continue to deny the research that two parents tend to provide better outcomes for children than one. A quarter of all British children are in one parent families and recent polling showed that if you’re not brought up in a two parent family you’re 75 percent more likely to fail at school, 70 percent more likely to be a drug addict, 50 percent more likely to have alcohol problems and over a third as likely to go on benefits.
“At the same time we’re not stigmatising people who are raising children on their own or outside of a formal commitment. It is a really good thing that children are not ostracised anymore because their parents aren’t married, however on average they are penalised because they are more likely to see their parents split, to experience a significant loss of income, to have to move home etc.
“Its class-based prevalence is the rationale for putting it firmly on the political and policy agenda. In other words the high break-up rates of lower income people, the greater likelihood that those in poverty will not be married and that they’ll have children outside of commitment and repeat the cycle of low income and low attainment has, in the past, made it really hard to talk about family breakdown without sounding judgemental and as if middle class values are being unjustly imposed but in the UK. We’ve had to turn this around and say if we are determined to tackle (what has become known in the UK) as our broken society we have to treat the high likelihood that poor children will grow up fatherless and from a fractured or dysfunctional family as a correlate of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
“Research is pointing to a marriage gap in the US and the UK. Aspirations to marry are universally high across the social spectrum but the culture and financial barriers to marriage are hard to overcome in low income communities; and a great concentration of single parenthood here may not be an expression of diversity but paradoxically of reduced choice with inability to fulfil marital ambitions and so it’s another dimension of inequality.”