In yesterday's Spending Review the Chancellor George Osborne abandoned his flawed tax credits plan. This is hugely welcome news. If we are to become the one nation society the Chancellor and Prime Minister say they want the UK to be, families must be given priority. We've heard plenty of admirable rhetoric from the Prime Minister and other ministers on the importance of the family, and David Cameron was even called the 'champion of families' yesterday by one optimistic MP. But let's get real: this Conservative government, which should be doing so much to help families, is failing to do anywhere near enough.
In the Christian worldview family is sacrosanct. A healthy, strong society is one where policies are designed and implemented to further the stability of family life, not ruthlessly undermine it. Families should receive support through the tax system and the government should be committed to policies that protect the central role of families in all corners of society. The stubborn unwillingness to promote family values is a symptom of the widespread rejection of God and His truth. The colossal problem of family breakdown in this country is a stark and glaring reminder that the 'anything goes' morality of today is undermining the lives of thousands of people every day.
Next week a draft piece of legislation will receive its second reading in the House of Commons. It is a Private Members Bill brought forward by Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastborne and Willingdon. It aims to ensure every policy is put through a family test in the hope that this will safeguard family life. This historic legislation is bold, necessary and extremely timely. While the government have made some progress, there is still a mountain to climb. The problem of family breakdown is not impossible to solve, but it needs imagination and dedication to reverse years of terminal decline. The Family Test Bill is the sort of visionary policy initiatives we need if we are going to see profitable change. It will not solve the problem of family breakdown by itself, but it provides a good start.
Doing more to prioritise families is important when you consider that currently family breakdown is estimated to cost taxpayers £47 billion a year. That is more than the UK defence budget. Most studies reveal the clear benefits to children and others of strong, stable families. I was reminded recently of a staggering statistic: 45 per cent of teenagers studying for their GSCEs are not living with both parents. The Marriage Foundation has also revealed for every £100 the government spends on family breakdown, they spend approximately 1.5 pence trying to repair it.
Under Cameron, the coalition government made some important first steps to roll back decades of family neglect. From CARE's point of view, the main one is the introduction of the marriage tax break in April 2015. This was a welcome decision after decades of ignoring marriage completely in terms of taxation. But it is a tiny improvement; it will only give you an additional £212 per year and should be increased. The government has also increased funding for relationship support to help early intervention and this at least is a belated attempt to recognise the benefits of marriage. Back in August 2014 Cameron announced his 'family test'. At the time, the Prime Minister said he wanted "every Government department to be held to account for the impact of their policies on the family", ensuring that "every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family". Yet departments are not obliged to use this test. When David Burrows MP investigated how widely used it was, the results, in his own words were "mixed".
We diminish the family at our peril. It is costing us a fortune to deal with family breakdown so we need urgent and immediate action. And cohabitation is not the answer. Consider the following: regardless of socio-economic status and education, cohabiting couples are between two and two and half times more likely to break-up than equivalent married couples and three quarters of family breakdowns with children under five come from the separation of non-married parents.
The benefits of strong families are manifold. As Cameron himself admitted yesterday, families are the best welfare state we have. Our emotional, psychological and physical growth happens within the family environment. Parents are best placed to look after their children. Older relatives are best looked after within their own families. Family life is often the best antidote to loneliness, illness, breakdown and many other problems the state cannot be expected to solve by itself. Yes, of course we need to support single parents as well because many do an amazing job. But our support for single parents must not prevent us from also supporting and upholding family life where two parents love and provide for their children.
God designed the family not because he had run out of ideas, but because it is THE idea for a healthy society. Strong families are vital, necessary and should be backed up by the government. Our leaders cannot divorce their responsibility to uphold family life. The Family Test Bill will not, in all likelihood, get passed. But at the very least government leaders should ensure that ministers across Whitehall start using it.
James Mildred is the Press Officer for CARE