Kathy Gyngell is Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies
Saving the family is as desperate as saving Private Ryan. It may already be too late. In twenty years time the graveyard may be silent but for tombstones - no one to reflect on whether the battle was worth it. New figures show that belief in marriage has collapsed. Only half those 25 years ago believe a couple should marry before having children according the British Social Attitudes Survey
This follows a new all time marriage rate low, half all births (47.5 per cent) outside marriage; three million children in single parent households – mainly mother led; and record numbers of 45 to 64 year olds (two and a half million) living alone with no spouse, partner or children to comfort them.
The council estate ‘men deserts’ - where children’s prospects are so poor – look here to stay. So too the largely futile but well meaning ‘early’ and ‘supporting problem families’ interventions (marriage disadvantage reduction policies). For it seems that the case for marriage has been lost, made so forcibly by Jill Kirby at the Centre for Policy Studies, Iain Duncan Smith at the Centre for Social Justice and most recently by the Marriage Foundation.
It seems neither to have influenced public opinion nor politicians. No surprise as far as Labour is concerned, but for the Conservatives it provided a new psychosocial explanation of fatherless family disadvantage and the pro marriage policy means to rectify it. But from day one in office they backtracked. Why? In a nutshell, the savagery of radical and irrational feminist ideology that laid the family low in the first place.
This intolerance displayed itself last week at the Lib Dems Conference. Not content with killing off the one earner married family, a new Transferable Tax Allowances w termed prejudicial and discriminatory, “only benefiting that minority of couples who conformed to a Tory ideal of what relationships ought to look like”. In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. So said George Orwell.
Conservatives are not revolutionaries. They have capitulated to the feminist lie. The public as ever responds rationally to the financial incentives and disincentives confronting them. It is easy to forget how feminism has changed balance between the family and the state over the last 25 years. Harriet Harman’s triumphalist marking of Gordon Brown’s first Budget as, “the end of the assumption that families consist of a male breadwinner and a female helpmate in the home,” culminated in an Equalities Bill (enacted by the Coalition) and one way maternal employment policies and childcare policies
Today, Lord Lawson admits his failure to persuade Mrs. Thatcher to include transferable allowances in their independent taxation reform in 1988 had far reaching consequences. It set in train the abolition of the married couples allowance, and George Osborne’s final death knell for family responsibility for children – capping child benefit.
But these financial blows alone do not account for the scale of family breakdown and dependency in post marriage Britain. In the decade before independent taxation reform the number of single mothers doubled from 330,000 to 770,000, newly supported on lone parent benefit. By 1990, the American Social Scientist Charles Murray noted the emergence of British underclass resulting from this rising rate of illegitimacy.
Its human face was (and is) socially marginal, unemployed men for whom there was no compelling reason to seek work or any incentive to obey social rules – least of all the marriage rule. Politicians, such as Frank Field, seeing the true costs, were prepared to think the unthinkable. They were outgunned by the Polly Toynbee and Harriet Harman school of feminism. A multi-billion pound juggernaut of working and child tax credits (benefits) was set in motion to redress welfare dependency. It has increased it.
They have made the married choice harder, the 'couple penalty’ a steeper challenge. Today, the Marriage Foundation reports 240,000 couples claiming to be apart to get lone parent tax credits worth £7,100.00 (rising to £9,985. 00 where there are two children). No wonder working class people have concluded marriage is not a realistic option for them, with no tax or ‘welfare’ advantages to a marriage certificate.
Only richer folk can afford marriage amongst whom is it rising, knowing it helps cement their wealth and their children’s success. It does not mean the poor are against the idea of marriage. They are not, but not, as one study has suggested, to ‘their’ own men. Their doubt is whether marriage is a realistic option, not a fundamental rejection of marriage as an ideal .
Yet despite a crescendo of anxiety about the collapse of boys’ morale and performance, feminist solutions to ‘the men problem’ persist. Maternal employment tops their agenda despite a rise in female employment of more than a quarter of a million since 2008 against a male fall of 70,000. Reconstructing men and dissolving gender differences - providing paternity leave, bullying them into becoming domestic helpers, are still the order of the day.
So while the introduction of a transferable tax allowance is essential it is not enough. Feminism has to be reigned back and families freed to decide their own division of labour. A backlash against radical feminism has begun but has not yet arrived at Westminster. In many crucial respects younger adults are becoming more, not less, old fashioned in their values.
On gender roles younger women have ideas that are closer to their grandmothers than to their mothers. This is what Geoff’s Dench’s analysis of the recently published British Social Attitudes data tells us. Far from the incomplete gender revolution spun by the BSA spun we may be witnessing the start of a counter-revolution. Today it is not the young but the middle-aged baby boomers who hold the most feminist views.
For example younger women (those aged 18-39) are more likely than their own mothers to think a pre-school child will suffer if its mother works, significantly up since 1994. The number who think what women most want is a home and children has doubled in ten years. Half now think that being a housewife is as fulfilling as working for pay.
All three political parties are out of touch. The Conservatives should have no need to genuflect the Harman and Toynbee baby boomer generation now it is increasingly out of step. They are no longer modern; and their desire to destroy the marriage advantage for others is perverse.
[i] Dench, G. 2010, What women want: Evidence from British Social Attitudes, London, Hera Trust, p.57