The Family is Britain’s Crumbling Cornerstone – We Must Do More to Restore It
Today, the nuclear family is under attack. Far too many regard it as a relic of a bygone era. It is seen at best as irrelevant and, at worst, as oppressive. The political left especially has long been fond of arguing against it; it is, they variously posit: misogynistic, homophobic, generationally unfair, and a hurdle to the social ‘progress’ to which they aspire. Yet the nuclear family – to wit: two people united in marriage raising their own sons and daughters – is not only a means to personal bliss, but the fundamental building block of our entire society.
The past fifty years have seen progressively more virulent attacks on the laws that once guaranteed the integrity of the family. Some of these changes were necessary, if often badly and hastily implemented: few today, for example, would argue a priori against the principle of divorce. Yet the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 led immediately to an enormous increase in the number of divorces; since that spike, the number of marriages has halved, while the number of divorces has remained constant. Similarly, reforms to children safeguarding laws in 1989 and 2004 have made the government responsible for ensuring the welfare of ‘its’ children through any means necessary. The state, these Acts state, ‘should promote the upbringing of children in their families’. Children’s own parents are relegated, effectively, to care-takers; the state’s far-reaching bureaucratic arm claims ultimate power over them.
The deleterious effects of these, and other, hasty and untested reforms are visible today in the outsize spread of the great social evils of poverty, drug addiction, and violence amongst those hardest-hit by the crisis of the family. Primus inter alia are children born and brought up out of wedlock. Today, nearly 2 million children are growing up with only one parent. The commitment and sacrifice of the vast majority of these single mothers and fathers is admirable; yet single-parent families are four times as likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to live in relative poverty, and twice as likely to suffer from fuel poverty. Hundreds of thousands of children are being deprived of the childhood to which they all have a right: one with an employed parent; with enough resources for at least the essentials; and in a warm, comfortable home.
An additional 1.25 million children have parents who only co-habit, without marrying. There may be good reasons, ranging from ethical objections to practical problems, to have a son or daughter out of wedlock. Yet the ease with which co-habitation can be ended is in most cases incompatible with the permanence and importance of child-rearing; the sheer uncertainty that comes with the lack of a marital bond is damaging not only to the parents, but especially to their child. Currently, the state recognises this somewhat by providing a modest marriage allowance; it would be in everyone’s interest that the government provide further tax and financial support to encourage couples – especially ones with children – to marry.
But not only children have been damaged by the disintegration of families: divorcees – an ever-greater percentage of those who marry – often find themselves in a challenging situation not only emotionally, but financially. Getting used to life alone is difficult. More difficult still is finding oneself without a stable home, with few assets – and often with child maintenance payments to shoulder. It is little wonder that many never re-marry, that some never recover, and that a few even sink into the deep pool of drugs and violence. Conversely, the increasing number of older bachelors has only exacerbated the loneliness crisis facing our nation’s elderly today. More than a million men and women over the age of 65 currently say that they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel lonely. Having a family – a spouse, children, grandchildren – is a natural and obvious antidote to loneliness, not to mention a source of accomplishment and pride. Yet if current trends continue, elderly men and women with such families are set to become a rarity – and the lonely, elderly bachelor an ever-more present reality in our country.
Not content with the damage they have hitherto caused, social liberals today want once again to take the pick-axe to the foundations of our society. They aim to erode further those laws that encourage good, stable family life, and motivate families to persevere even through difficult times. The proposals for ‘no-fault divorce’ are perhaps the most prominent, as well as the most dangerous. This aptly yclept but badly thought-out legislation would allow for a couple to divorce with both sides being ‘innocent’. At the basis of this stands the belief that marriages can simply ‘break apart’ without either side having done anything wrong. Has marriage a mind of its own? Or is this a flimsy excuse to allow couples to conceal their wrong-doings? A chance for them to wash their hands of the pain they will inflict on their children, on each other, on their relatives by undertaking a divorce? Divorce is a – sometimes necessary – wrong; it should be treated as such. The introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce would be an unprecedented victory of egotistical narcissism over moral rectitude.
There are more subtle threats looming to the family, too – from the job market and infrastructure to education and healthcare. Yet one is very seldom talked about: housing. Families spend most of their time – and certainly most of their time together – at home. Yet the large developers that have monopolised the market for new-build homes are intent on maximising their profits by building, quite simply, the smallest flats and houses with which they can get away. As a consequence, new homes in this country are not only some of the smallest in Europe – but consistently fail to meet even minimum space standards. Houses designed for families of five are now being built with as little as 70m2 of floor space. In such cramped conditions, it is difficult to imagine traditional family life taking place. These glorified rabbit hutches all but require both parents to work full-time during the day; encourage the families living there to leave the house for social and recreational activities; and then force everyone too close together for comfort in the evening and at night. They are the built embodiment of anti-family ideology; we must stop building them. New space standards, enforced ideally through financial or tax benefits for house-builders who meet or exceed them, are needed.
The dangers to the traditional family that we are facing today are unprecedented. They are legislative, cultural – even architectural. Unprecedented, too, are the risks we run as a society in abandoning it. Conservatives of all creeds must come together once again to defend this venerable institution. The future of our societies – and our own families – depends on it.