Dr Samantha Callan is Associate Director for Families and Mental Health at the Centre for Social Justice.
Six years ago the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) presented David Cameron with Breakthrough Britain, a blueprint for the social recovery of the UK. Tackling family breakdown was at the heart of the prescription for reversing social breakdown. The then Leader of the Opposition responded to this report with an unequivocal endorsement of the need for family stability and the importance of marriage.
He went into the general election promising to do everything in his power as Prime Minister to lead to the most family-friendly government ever. Despite his genuine resolve, when it comes to the most pressing family policy priority of improving stability there is very little to show from that rightly ambitious rhetoric.
Our report, Fractured Families: why stability matters, published later this week, makes this lack of delivery depressingly clear. Since 2010, the formation of lone-parent families has continued to rise, unabated, at a rate of 20,000 per year. By the time of the next election, we will have crashed through the two million barrier. The CSJ would be the last organisation to indulge in lone-parent bashing; our Alliance of several hundred grassroots charities tackling social breakdown works day in, day out, with parents raising children on their own. They are the ones who tell us how tough it is, how much harried mums (only eight per cent of those raising children on their own are dads) would appreciate an extra, reliable pair of hands in the home on a permanent, committed basis.
By Peter Hoskin
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With the Government’s “High Income Child Benefit charge” coming into effect on Monday, the past week has witnessed a flurry of criticism of the policy. My former colleague Jonathan Jones wrote a useful summary of those criticisms yesterday, which ticked off things like high marginal tax rates and the extra complexity that is being wired into the benefits system.
But there’s another criticism, and one that the Centre for Social Justice is highlighting today: the effect that the Child Benefit changes could have on marriage. Christian Guy, the managing director of the CSJ, puts it thus:
“The new rules will mean that married couples where one earns over £50,000 pa will be unable to avoid losing some or all of their child benefit. Meanwhile similar couples who are cohabiting will face unenviable choices: a severe financial penalty if they marry or breaking the law if they deny their relationship status.
This creates a potential ‘marriage penalty’, despite evidence showing how crucial marriage is to stable families and children. Research illustrates that break-up rates are three times higher for couples who cohabit compared with those who marry.”
It all comes down to keeping secrets from the taxman. As Christian Guy suggests, unmarried couples (where one partner earns over £50,000, etc., etc.) have one obvious way to avoid being stung by the Child Benefit policy: they don’t admit to being a couple. And if they don’t want to admit to being a couple, then they may not want to get married. Money could, at least theoretically, trump wedding bells.
In truth, it’s hard to know how many of the estimated 1.2 million families affected by the Child Benefit policy will choose that route. Perhaps it will only be a handful, or even none. But that will do little to salve the concerns of those Tories who already feel the Government isn’t doing enough to promote marriage in the tax system. No doubt, there will now be even more pressure on George Osborne to produce a tonic for them in the next Budget.
> READ: Paul's post from yesterday, on why George Osborne should say that the child benefit restriction is temporary
A few think tank reactions to the Autumn Statement...
Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs, focused on the big picture and the fact that Britain is becoming a high debt nation: "The Chancellor has basically stuck to his spending plans, but not to his deficit plans. Low growth and weak tax revenues demanded that he made greater reductions in spending today. His plan is now to add around £6,000 to the national debt for every man, woman and child in the UK between 2013 and 2018. By the end of this Parliament this will mean the UK’s national debt is close to £65,000 per household. It’s clear the government is still failing to take the necessary action to restore economic credibility. It’s all very well acknowledging the need to get public spending under control, but it requires substantial reform. Limiting benefit rises to 1%, scrapping the planned fuel duty increase, devolving power over teacher pay to schools and cutting corporation tax are steps in the right direction. But they are tiny, tinkering measures – not radical reforms."
Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute was even more depressed at the Chancellor's lack of boldness on spending and public service reform: "Deeper cuts to public spending are clearly needed to cut the deficit, but these are not possible without a fundamental shift away from socialistic monoliths like the NHS. The only way real cuts to expenditure can be made is by shifting to more efficient, market-based models of social insurance for healthcare and welfare. The claim that we can make substantial savings by ‘trimming waste’ is a lie – and we’re fast learning what a dangerous one it has been.”
Graeme Leach, speaking for the Institute of Directors, was more positive: "Graeme Leach, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “This was a tricky job, well done by George Osborne. Faced with a weaker outlook for GDP growth, the Chancellor needed to raise business confidence whilst at the same time keeping the deficit on a downward path. And he largely succeeded, particularly with the surprise reduction in Corporation Tax. Ideally, we would have wished for further and faster deficit reduction but political reality always made this unlikely. Our key concern is that the OBR’s growth forecasts will yet again prove too optimistic, with the result that the deficit in the out years will be much higher than forecast. Business confidence will be boosted by the corporation tax cut.”While welcoming many of the Chancellor's measures Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers' Alliance expressed concern at the increasing number of people paying the 40p tax band: "The Chancellor has sent out entirely the wrong message to those earning, or hoping to earn, the increasingly modest wage where almost half of your income starts to be taken in Income Tax and National Insurance. Hundreds of thousands of new people are being ensnared by a punitive rate of tax."
Christian Guy of the Centre for Social Justice regretted that - yet again - the Chancellor had failed to introduce a tax allowance for married couples: “The Government said it would introduce a transferable tax allowance for married couples, it is disappointing that this pledge has still to be fulfilled as it is shown that it would have a positive impact on the incomes of the poorest working households. It would also play a part in tackling the perverse incentives which currently persuade many people on low incomes to reject couple formation and the stability of marriage.”
By Tim Montgomerie
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One year ago the Centre for Social Justice graded the Coalition on what it regards as the key pathways out of poverty and towards prosperous, independent living (ConHome emphasises just three - family, school and work).
The CSJ has updated the scorecard now that the Coalition is celebrating two years in office. The grades are below (with last year's ratings in brackets):
The CSJ blames Coalition tensions for the lack of progress on family policy. It says there has been no progress on introducing a married tax break or eliminating the couple penalty in the benefits system. It worries that in focusing on childcare and parental leave it has the same precoccupations as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Despite last week's announcement on parent classes it worries that there is a big gap between the Government's words and its wallet:
"The department for education (DFE) has committed to help encourage the take-up of relationship support by providing extra funds for innovative services. overall, however, funding to prevent relationship splits remains below a scant £4 million per year, despite family breakdown carrying an annual price tag of £44 billion."
The Coalition gets the lowest rating for progress on the charitable and voluntary sector. It describes the cap on charitable giving relief as "disastrous". Again the CSJ sees a funding problem; worrying at the impact of spending cuts on the voluntary sector:
"During this past year the Government has set out a vision of social action which is at the heart of mending the UK’s broken society [yet] the charities we need to deliver this agenda have faced unprecedented funding cuts at a local level. More should have been done to protect them in the short-term whilst helping to build their independence over the long-term.The £100 million Transition Fund set up by the Cabinet office is an example of a measure which recognised the sum of the problem and yet was insufficient to meet anywhere near the scale of the need (compare this to the estimated £553 million spent on security for the olympic Games)."
The full report card is here (PDF).
Christian Guy is Director of Policy for the Centre for Social Justice.
The ability of the British people to move on and to rebuild distinguishes our country from countless others. How quickly our determination in the face of adversity rises, and how effectively we recover in the wake of destruction.
Such resilience was evident again last summer, as Britain stared down the rioters, looters and vandals who turned parts of London and our cities into no-go areas. Before the police gained control, it was ordinary citizens who took a stand. As each morning came and the cowards went home, it was people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs who came together to clean up and help those who had lost so much. This was, and is, what citizenship looks like.
But in our ability to regroup and rebuild, there is one thing we have to be careful to avoid: the tendency to forget. Seven months on it is easy to forget the sense of siege on the streets last August, the riot vans, the shops and businesses ablaze, our boarded up high streets and offices closing early.
That is why yesterday’s report from the Riots Communities and Victims Panel should act as another reminder to Government that although public order is restored, the threat is far from removed. In general the Panel’s report contains helpful diagnosis and several valuable, if sometimes vague, recommendations for the political classes. It is refreshing to read calls for a focus on the 500,000 ‘forgotten families’, often chaotic and dysfunctional, that we so often encounter at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and it is about time that others in the policy field recognised how absent fathers damage children. It is right that the Panel called for action in our schools to ensure those graduating the system are literate, numerate and ready for the real world. Given the links between rioters and educational exclusion (a third of those rioting were excluded the previous year and a similar number persistently absent from school) we should hit schools that wash their hands of challenging pupils without consideration of their welfare. And our undemanding, revolving door criminal justice system was again the subject of criticism. There can be no doubt that the re-offending crisis which endangers our communities played its part in fuelling last summer’s disturbances – many involved had no fear of a criminal record because theirs is already a tome.
The TaxPayers' Alliance is, on the whole, pleased with the Budget:
“There is a lot of good news in the Budget for families who have struggled in the recession. The cuts in corporate and top rate taxes will improve the incentive to invest and innovate, meaning higher wages before tax. Then a higher personal allowance will mean they can keep more of the money they earn. Unfortunately some of the money is coming from higher taxes on pensioners; there is no relief for motorists from terribly high taxes on petrol and diesel; higher taxes on tobacco will be a boon for criminals selling dodgy cigarettes; and yet another higher rate on Stamp Duty is an unfortunate hike in an ugly tax. But overall this is a Budget that should ease the pressure on people’s living standards and allow most of them to keep more of their money.”
The Adam Smith Institute fears the cut in the 50p rate to only 45p will institionalise the top rate of tax at a new high level:
"It’s encouraging to see some steps in this budget towards greater tax simplification. Cutting the 50p tax rate to 45 percent is a step in the right direction, but the Chancellor should have scrapped this altogether. The danger is that the 45p will become a permanent rate. It is also very welcome that the personal allowance has been raised, but the reduction of 40p rate threshold will mean that only basic rate taxpayers will benefit from the personal allowance rise. Up to 300,000 people will now find themselves upper rate taxpayers as a result. This will hit single-earner families particularly hard."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Centre for Social Justice is today recommending an overhaul of Britain's youth justice system. The CSJ says the youth justice system is being treated as a “dumping ground” for problem youths and is currently expected to take on cases that other council services have failed to address.
A report by a team of experts, commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, due to be released on Monday, says that Britain is failing to prevent youth crime, and that imprisonment of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 is far too frequent in England and Wales. This course of action should be limited to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and who represent a threat to the public.
The CSJ says too many children are being taken before the youth courts for trivial reasons. In one case cited in the report, a child was arrested for assault and attempted burglary, then held in a police cell over a weekend for throwing a bowl of Sugar Puffs at his care worker, then jumping out of the window and climbing back in again. The report stresses the need to return to a “common-sense” approach to minor incidents such as these and advises that parents and teachers use their own judgement to deal with problem children at a home or school level.
The report also advises against the widespread use of short sentences for young offenders, instead suggesting alternative non-custodial punishments, such as more rigorous community sentences and restorative justice schemes, not least because three out of four of those given a custodial sentence reoffend within a year. A further point made by the report is that schools, children’s social care teams, mental health services, communities and families should be playing a greater role in improving the behaviour of young offenders.
By Tim Montgomerie
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The Centre for Social Justice has today issued a report which notes the loneliness of old people. We tend to focus on the impact of family breakdown on children but it also reduces solidarity across the generations. Read more here.
Twelve brilliant ideas. Read more here (PDF).
By Tim Montgomerie
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As you can read on today's ConHome frontpage Nick Clegg is using a speech to attack Tory policy on marriage and family life. 10 Downing Street interpret the speech as an attempt by Nick Clegg to quell unrest within his party after last week's EU veto. David Cameron's advisers fear that one consequence of the EU issue will be that progress on other Coalition business - unrelated to Europe - is likely, at least for a time, to become more difficult.
Gavin Poole, the Executive Director of the CSJ commented:
“Nick Clegg’s stance flies in the face of all the evidence, completely ignoring national and international data demonstrating how important marriage is to the health and well-being of children and families. Marriage is important because 1 in 3 couples who live together when a child is born split up before that child is five, compared to only 1 in 11 married couples. The Centre for Social Justice have repeatedly called for a tax break for marriage and an end to the couple penalty in the welfare system as a strong signal and vote of support in the institution and as a way of reversing decades of decline in our society.”
Polling by YouGov for the Centree of Social Justice found that "70% of those expressing an opinion support introducing an extra tax allowance for married couples" (PDF).
> On Friday the CSJ's Samantha Callan wrote: The Government is missing a coherent policy to challenge family breakdown
Harriet Crawford of the Centre for Social Justice writes about the role education can play in lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. As in all contributions to this series she suggests practical measures to improve education for the most disadvantaged.
Nothing raises the aspirations of children and young people like effective education. If this Government is able to achieve its valuable promise of radical education reform, we will at last begin to slow Britain’s criminal conveyor belt. Where there is abuse, dysfunction or neglect at home – a tragic reality for too many of tomorrow’s adults – where there is a lack of productivity in a community, and where life skills are absent, our schools should be engine rooms of social mobility.
Yet during last week’s riots we saw the involvement of children as young as seven years old. More broadly, we know that seven in ten young offenders describe their academic attainment as nil and that a third of the adult prison population was in care as a child. For too many in the UK’s most deprived areas, our education system falls shamefully short. As such, it consigns thousands to a purposeless future on society’s scrapheap.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published Breakthrough Britain, a report which examined this dangerous pattern of educational failure in the UK, and made recommendations for urgent action. For generation upon failed generation, little has been done through our schools to lift the achievements and broaden the horizons of the young people at the bottom of society’s ladder. And as these riots have shown, educational failure has a huge social and economic price tag which we all pay.