Fatherless Families Growing in Number in Britain

Report Accuses Government of Neglect

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A report published this week by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a British think-tank, warned that lone parent families will soon reach a total of two million.

There is a “tsunami of family breakdown battering the country,” warned CSJ director Christian Guy in a foreword to the report, titled: “Fractured Families: why stability matters.”

The report estimated that single parent families are increasing at a rate of more than 20,000 a year and will reach a total of more than two million by the time of the next national election.

Cohabitation, the report found, is the main factor behind the increase in single parent families. Since 1996, the number of people cohabiting has doubled to nearly 6 million.

Cohabiting parents are three times more likely to separate by the time a child reaches five years of age, compared to married couples, according to the report’s findings.

One quarter of all families with dependent children are now headed by a lone parent in Britain, giving the country one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the developed world, the report observed.

The CSJ criticized the government of turning a blind eye to the need for family stability, recalling the pledge made by British Prime Minister David Cameron during his election campaign that he would lead the “most family friendly government ever.”

One pound

Yet, the report noted for every six thousand pounds the government spends on dealing with the costs of family breakdowns just one pound is spent on helping families stay together.

The think tank highlighted the enormous costs of the rise in single parent families. The total cost of family breakdowns amounts to 46bn pounds a year, or just over 1,500 pounds for every taxpayer. This figure, the report added, has risen by nearly a quarter in the last four years.

Another serious consequence due to weakening family life is the lack of male role models for children. According to the report at least a million children are growing up without the presence of a father in the household.

The CSJ also described how some of the poorest regions of the country are “man deserts” because so few primary schools have male teachers. In England and Wales a quarter of primary schools are without a single male teacher and four-fifths have fewer than three men teaching.

The absence of fathers and male role models, the report pointed out, is linked to higher rates of teen crime, economic disadvantages and early pregnancy.

The CSJ director observed that politicians give a number of excuses for not doing more to help families. Some say that politicians should not interfere in personal matters, others think that changes in families is simply part of modern life, while some even deny that family breakdown matters.

A social justice issue

“This has to change,” urged Guy. “Family breakdown is an urgent public health issue,” he declared. “Backing commitment and setting a goal of reducing instability does not equate to criticising or stigmatisng lone parents or those involved,” he said.

We need to perceive that supporting marriage “is not a right wing obsession but a social justice issue,” the CSJ director explained, In fact, he continued, “people throughout society want to marry but the cultural and financial barriers faced by those in the poorest communities thwart their aspirations.”

The extent of the problems created by divisions in family life was the subject of another UK report, published last year by the Economic and Social Research Council. According to a November 7 report in the Telegraph newspaper family breakdown during childhood is associated with psychological problems among people in their 30s.

Numerous other studies have shown the advantages of stable married life, with positive results ranging from higher income levels for fathers to improved health and happiness. A marriage Web site sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops includes a page (http://www.foryourmarriage.org/what-are-the-social-benefits-of-marriage/) on the social benefits of marriage.

In spite of the large amount of information that demonstrates the important role of marriage for society the rise in single parent households is continuing. In the United States by 2010 only 63% of children lived in a family with two parents, compared to 82% in 1970. This data was brought out in an article published on March 20 by the New York Times that examined the poorer economic condition of less educated males.

The article also cited research showing that children from lower-income families are more likely to be raised by their mother and in turn to be parents of lower-income children.

With such an enormous amount of evidence that shows how the decline of family life is hurting society, the question that needs to be answered is why governments are doing so little to promote marriage and families.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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