What makes people happy more than any other phenomenon?
According to a poll commissioned by Radio 5 Live, the answer is 'family'.
What has happened to families in the past fifty years?
They are more dismembered than at any time in Britain's history. There is less marriage and more divorce. There are many more people living alone.
It follows that what appears to be the most profound source of happiness in people's lives has been seriously damaged.
I argue in The Welfare State We're In that the welfare state is a major cause of 'broken families'. And through this mechanism, the welfare state has indirectly undermined the greatest source of human happiness.
A TV programme is coming up on Thursday evening in which I expect I will appear. It is a 90 minute film by Martin Durkin about the huge national debt that has piled up and his solution. He will be arguing against Big Government and he interviewed me about the NHS and about welfare and social housing. Apparently the film also includes interviews with four former Chancellors. I believe he also filmed in Hong Kong.
I wonder if Channel 4 knew what they were in for when they commissioned this film since these kind of arguments - presented at length - are not usually seen on British TV. If the channel knew what it was doing, then all credit to it. Maybe something really is changing in Britain. There was a time when most of the media elite would not contemplate giving airtime to such ideas.
Here is a link to the programme details.
It is a pretty stunning statistic. It is only now, with a secretary of state willing to say these things - even to look at them - that the truth is being allowed out. For many years, ministers and some civil servants, too, perhaps, have been unwilling to look at or even measure the relationship between lone parenting and crime. Now at last some figures are being allowed to emerge.
The figure is from an Iain Duncan Smith speech last week. This is the key extract:
But when government abandons policies that support families, society can pay a heavy price.
* lone parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than two-parent families
* children from broken homes are 9 times more likely to become young offenders
* and only 30% of young offenders grew up with both parents.
And overall wellbeing:
* Children in lone-parent and step-families are twice as likely to be in the bottom 20% of child outcomes as children in married families
So this is not some abstract debate.
The full speech is here.
This appears to be a major, long-term study which is already providing powerful evidence.
It is important, however, to try to distinguish between the effect of lone parenting and the effect of being poor. The section below does not make that distinction. I would expect that the original research does. Why is it important? Because some people will say, "No, it is not the lone parenting that harms. It is being poor."
Previous studies provide plenty of evidence that this is not the case (see The Welfare State We're In) but it is an issue that must always be looked out for. Actually I see the disproportionate level of lone parenting among the poor as a direct result of the welfare and housing benefits system. Richer women still - on average - gain financially from getting married. Poorer women, at least initially, do not gain from getting married. They might even lose. Financial considerations are not everything, of course, but they do influence behaviour to some extent. If this is right, then the welfare benefits system has encouraged more poor women to become lone parents. This has ultimately led to them being poorer than they otherwise would have been. The result is that their children have been both poor and in a lone parent family. The children have thus been less advantaged twice over. So in this way, the 'lone parenting' versus 'being poor' argument over how children are damaged does not matter since the welfare and housing benefits system causes both.
The finding - according to this news report - that really stands out is the one about stepchildren. They have a tendency to have even more troubles that children of lone parents. How to interpret this?
I think it possible that in a household with a lone parent, usually a mother, the child has a reasonable chance of feeling secure and settled. But if the woman remarries, the child has a new parent imposed on him or her. This new stepfather inevitably will not care so much about the children since they are not his (see The Welfare State We're In in the parenting chapter). The children will know this instinctively. The child will also have a rival for the love of the mother. Often the interests of the stepfather and the child will conflict. Yes, of course there are stepfathers who do everything they can to give love and be the best possible stepfather and such people are to be applauded. But on average it will be a difficult situation for the child with results that are shown by the study.
However there is a good thing about stepfathers: they have married the lone mother. That provides some stability. What I suspect is far worse for the child is when the lone parent has a boyfriend who lives in or, worse still, a succession of boyfriends. They have made much less commitment to the child (as well as the mother).
Researchers are tracking children’s behaviour, school choice and cognitive development as part of the on-going Millennium Cohort Study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Two major analyses of the data – published today – chart the impact of parenting on children born at the turn of the millennium.
In one study, researchers surveyed 13,500 mothers to gage children’s behaviour. They were asked to rate their hyperactivity, conduct, emotional problems and relationships with peers. Researchers then grouped children into three categories ranging from “normal” to “serious behavioural problems”.
It found that stepchildren and children with lone parents were most likely to be badly behaved. Fifteen per cent of stepchildren and 12 per cent of children with lone parents fell into this category, compared with six per cent living with both natural parents.
Behavioural problems were less likely among children living in families with higher levels of parental qualifications, it was disclosed.
Academics insisted further research was needed into the link between single parents and children’s behaviour.
But previous studies have found children raised by lone mothers are likely to have less economic security, less attention and guidance and more likely to live in deprived areas.
A separate analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study – based at the Institute of Education – tracked the effect of mothers’ age on children’s early development.
It found those with mothers aged under 30 had to cope with “far more upheaval than other children during their first seven years”.
Four in 10 children with younger mothers experienced a significant family change, such as the arrival of a stepfather, compared with only 13 per cent of youngsters with mothers aged 40 and over.
The full story is here.
In Britain we are now glumly entering the age of austerity and everyone expects unemployment to go on rising. It is normal here for a lengthy lag between growth starting and unemployment falling.
But Switzerland is different. There, unemployment is already falling. It is down from being relatively low in the first place to being even lower. It has fallen from 4.5pc to 3.8pc since January.
If you go to Zurich and ask the reason why, you have a good chance of being told: “employment is picking up fast because it is cheap to sack people”. It is a classic paradox and not the only one to be found in this part of the world.
In recent years, British policy-wonks have looked at how things are done in the USA. Meanwhile the Left has long had a warm glowing feeling about Sweden – usually unsullied by much research into the place. However there may be more to be learned about good social policy in little Switzerland. The country may not, apparently, have invented the cuckoo clock, but it has made a better fist of a welfare state than most countries. That is to say, it gets better results and, just as crucially, it avoids causing as much collateral damage.
The boom in lone and unmarried parenting is one of the ways in which our own welfare state has damaged our society - not only the children involved but also the women and men. Of course I am not blaming all lone parents, only saying that the research shows it is a less than ideal way of bringing up children and the effects on the children are well-documented. In Britain, 46pc of our children are born out of wedlock. In Switzerland the figure is vastly lower at 16pc.
So what happens, I asked, if you are, say, a young mother in Switzerland with a little baby but no husband or similar on the scene and nowhere to live? There is no countrywide answer to this question because it is not dealt with on a national basis at all. It is not even dealt with by one of the 26 cantons. It is dealt with by your local commune. There are 2,900 of these and the population can be anything between 30 and over 10,000.
Officials from this ultra-small local government will come and investigate the circumstances individually. The father will be expected to pay. The mother’s family, if it is in a position to, will be expected to house and pay for her. As a last resort, the young mother will be given assistance by the commune. But the people who pay the local commune taxes will be paying part of the cost. You can imagine that they will not be thrilled at paying for a birth or separation that need never have taken place. Putting yourself in the position of the mother – and perhaps the father – you can imagine that you will be embarrassed as you pass people in the street who are paying for your baby. Instead of feeling you have impersonal legal rights, as in Britain, you are taking money from people you might meet see at your local café. No wonder unmarried parenting is less common.
A similar system applies if you need means-tested benefits. Those made redundant receive, for a while, generous unemployment insurance payments from the cantonal governments. But once these payments run out, people depend again on their local commune. You would be cautious of claiming fraudulently because, if you worked in the black economy, your chances of being spotted would be high. And so it is that Switzerland has the second highest rate of male employment in the OECD. Britain’s rate is about 50pc worse.
Switzerland has arguably the most successful system of healthcare in the Western world. It is an insurance system with a twist. You are obliged to take out health insurance but you can choose which company to use. There is no state monopoly. So you can choose an insurance group which is connected to your line of work. Or you could go with a trade union-run insurance cooperative. Or a private, commercial company. That means there is some competition among these companies to provide the best possible service for the lowest possible price. Then these companies, in turn, have some choice over which doctors and hospitals they commission to work for them. So again, the doctors and hospitals have to compete to offer the best facilities and treatment at the lowest possible cost. The pressure is on and the performance is one of the best in the world. Poorer people get credits which enable them, too, to choose insurance.
The Swiss health service is decidedly superior to that in Britain, too. It has more doctors per capita, more advanced scanners, better cancer outcomes and so on and on.
All right, it is not perfect. Costs have been running ahead because, effectively, people get treated for free and since the service is easily available and good, they tend to overuse it. Thus the costs have been rising worryingly, as with other social insurance systems. However, it is still one of the best systems around. It provides less of a barrier to employment than most social insurance systems. The cost of the premiums is borne by individuals, not shared with companies as in Germany.
Swiss schools are also better, on average, than British ones. That has, again, surely got a lot to do with local control – not the fake kind that we are used to. Primary schools are run by the little communes and secondary schools and universities by the cantons. It means there are villages where the officials in charge of a school will all know the headmaster and many of the students. There is much less wasteful bureaucracy and much more direct accountability. But I should add that I gather home-schooling is virtually illegal. Those of us who care about the freedom of the individual versus the state do not like this part of the system one bit.
But the Swiss system really scores over ours when it comes to preparation for work. We have got used to Labour politicians and some Tory ones, too, spouting that university education is vital for economic success. This theory was comprehensively debunked in Alison Wolf’s book Does Education Matter? The Swiss example is an illustration that it is nonsense. While Tony Blair was claiming that half of young people must go on to university for economic success, Switzerland was and remains content to have a mere 24pc doing so. It has, at the same time, achieved much greater economic prosperity. Education is only compulsory until the age of 15 but actually the vast majority keep going voluntarily because the schools, colleges and universities are pretty good.
Most of the other three-quarters of students progress from school to vocational training. They don’t do airy-fairy theory. The training typically consists of one and a half days a week at college and the other three and a half at a commercial company. This truly prepares people with the skills and attitudes desirable for a successful career. The result? Switzerland has only 4.5pc youth unemployment compared to 18pc in France where they have the supposedly economy-boosting 50pc of students at university. It seems that writing essays on Racine does not make you a shoe-in at a pharmaceutical company. Funny that.
Let’s be honest. No welfare state is perfect. All of them do damage of one sort or another. And there are some claustrophobic, controlling elements in the Swiss system that are unappetising to British taste. There is a continuous pressure there towards centralisation and regulation. But there are plenty of lessons worth learning amid those lakes and mountains. The Swiss way of welfare is a darn sight better than the British.
The above is the unedited version of an article which appears in this week's Spectator magazine. I would simply link to the Spectator website but I can't locate the article there.
A visitor to the site has implicitly pointed out, quite fairly, that not all killers have come from broken families. Of course I wholly accept this. However there is powerful statistical evidence that children from lone parent families are more likely to be delinquent and to suffer from pretty well every measurable disadvantage - such as a poor academic record - and that is even after making adjustment for other factors. There is also evidence they are more likely to turn to crime. (Fuller details are in The Welfare State We're In, the most extreme and horrifying of which apply to the likelihood of a child being abused or killed in a family with a married, natural father present and those where there is an unmarried lover present).
The commentator mentioned Derrick Bird who killed 12 people. I had not looked into his family background. It may be that he is one of those killers who came from a stable background of two married parents. The family background is a significant factor, I suggest, not a determinant.
However, having briefly googled him, I came across the following even in his case:
Mr Bird [his twin brother], 52, a truck driver who once had his own garage business, was a well-known figure around Lamplugh.
In contrast to his brother, he lived in a substantial farmhouse. It was this disparity in their fortunes that apparently drove Derrick Bird, a taxi driver, to kill him in the early hours of June 2.
Derrick Bird was said to be angry when he learnt that their late father, Joseph, had given £25,000 as a gift to his twin shortly before his death.
Anyone who has been a brother or sister or who has more than one children will know just how powerful sibling rivalry can be. When one's sibling is favoured over oneself, it can sometimes feel like rejection by the parent. I think it is difficult to underestimate the power of the relationship with parents to cause good and bad. After all, one spends a great deal of the first twenty or so of one's life with them and, in many cases, the relationship continues to be very important thereafter. For many people, the parents are the emotional foundation of their lives.
A few days ago I suggested that it could have been the broken family from which he came that led Raol Moat to go off the rails. It is extraordinary, though, that in what appear to be his final words, he himself suggested his parenting background was a vital component.
This is the account in the Sunday Telegraph:
As he lay on the grass, his gun pointed at his neck, witnesses heard him tell police: “I have not got a dad – no one cares about me.”
Feeling alone and sorry for himself, the man who had goaded police during a week-long manhunt had finally lost his bravado.
Cornered by armed officers at the edge of a river and with police spotlights trained on him, Moat appeared a shadow of his public image as a steroid-addicted, violent bodybuilder.
Almost whimpering, the 37-year-old had become increasingly agitated during the six-hour standoff.
Witnesses recall seeing him at times rubbing his face in an obvious sign of distress.
Finally, at 1.15am on Saturday, Moat, who never knew his father and whose mother had disowned him, tucked the shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger in circumstances which are now under investigation.
The tragic story of Raol Moat and his victims poses the question, "if the parenting is important, which parts of it are key?"
Is the fact that a) his father went off without ever knowing him b) that his mother chose to marry another man or c) that his mother, according this recent report 'disowned' him?
Obviously each of these things could have an impact individually and the effect of each could act as a multiplier of the impact of the others. But I suspect, though I cannot bring forward evidence for it, that a boy can do pretty well if he exclusively has to handle the fact that no father has ever been on the scene. If he is brought up and loved by a lone mother, I suspect that the results can easily be satisfactory. Indeed, the story of how the boy seemed happy and fine until his early teenage years, supports the idea. It was then that his mother got married and then that the boy began to be troubled.
I suspect that the arrival of a new man on the scene for his mother is something which often makes the situation much more difficult for the son. He is not likely to accept the authority of a male adult who has simultaneously taken some of the attention of his mother away from him and who is also not his natural father. This may seem like a cruel judgement to make - as though I were saying to mothers in that situation, "it is wrong for you to take another man - you must live alone". I realise that could be hard for many women. But I trying to understand the pyschology of the young son honestly and let the moral consequences fall where they may. A similar situation could arise for a lone father who would like to have a new woman in his life and who daughter could be deeply hurt.
One thing that happens, in some of the lone mother cases, is that the new adult male on the scene can so damage the relationship between the mother and son that the son feels profoundly rejected. That could be what happened in the case of Raol Moat. The effect appears to have been devastating for him.
When a murderer hits the headlines, it is worth looking to see what were his or her childhood experiences were. Very often there was a break-up between the natural mother and father.
So it is with Raol Moat, the alleged killer currently on the run. Today the newspapers have some details of his background. Poignantly the mother says that he was happy as a young child but then he changed. The photograph of him at the wedding of his mother to his stepfather when he was 13 shows him with no smile on his face.
These details are from the Sun:
His mother remembered him as a gentle, asthma-stricken child who gave no indication that he would grow into the menacing man mountain who has "declared war" on all police.
But by the end of his teens, Moat had changed, she said.
He had never known who his real father was and simmering tensions between him and his mother and stepdad erupted into furious rows when he was 19.
Josephine said: "It was horrible. He started having a go at my husband."
Moat finally left home at the age of 24.
Of course it is not possible to prove that he would have he would not have gone wrong if he had grown up with both his natural mother and father. Similarly it is not possible to show that he would have stayed the right side if only his mother had not re-married. But the overall statistics relating family breakd-down to crime are strong. And many times, when I have gleaned from the papers the family background of killers, they turn out to have come from broken families. The killers of Jamie Bulger, for example, were - as detailed in The Welfare State We're In.
The newspapers never highlight this common background of the majority of killers. And couples who break up when there are children involved often tell themselves that the children will be all right. They say to themselves, 'well, the children would have been much worse off if we stayed together arguing like mad'. The keeness and ability of human beings to justify themselves is impressive.
It is as if they were not capable of changing their behaviour. In fact in many cases they could. But they would find it more of an effort and not what they are currently inclined to do. If, indeed, they were unable to divorce or live apart, they would be obliged to find a better way to live together.
There was a time when more people had moral codes and consciences that more often induced them to question the morality of what they were doing. They tried harder.
The truth is that every time a marriage breaks up when there are children, those children are hurt. And many of the times when the parent who looks after the children remarries, the children are hurt again.
Generally, if they are young, the children don't say much at the time. They wouldn't. They are often silent victims. But they are being hurt.
Of course only a tiny minority go on to become murderers. Only a minority become delinquent. But these kinds of outcomes are the extremes - the tips of icebergs. Underneath there are hurt people whose pain does not show so obviously.
The Sun story is http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article3045636.ecehere.
What drives people towards or away from crime?
I have been dipping into Understanding Criminal Behaviour by David Jones which seems to summarise recent research and ideas. He mentions J.C.Coleman writing an article in 1988 using the notion of 'social capital'. Did this Coleman create the concept? Anyway, two others, Sampson and Laub (1993, building on the concept went to suggest that,
Those with loose social bonds - occurring through such things as weak family ties and insecure employment - will find it easier to deviate. Their behaviour will be less governed by those around them, and they will have less to lose if convicted. (page 96)
They then went one to argue,
that positive events in people's lives such as getting married or finding long-term employment can act as a 'turning point', allowing an individual to have access to a different life.
They gave an example of 'Charlie' who was criminal as a child and teenager but, when he was 18, got a job and began going out with a woman who would become his wife. He changed and came to lead a stable, law-abiding life.
Another academic, Warr (1998) went on to use longitudinal data to argue that marriage was a very significant factor in leading criminals to change their lives.
This is work in progress and academic books - or certainly this one - is written in a way that is complex and precise. It is not easy to draw firm, large-scale conclusions. But my early impression is that marriage and employment are both factors which can help turn people away from crime.
I would argue, of course, that the welfare state has - by the incentives and disincentives it has created - reduced the amount of marriage and employment. By these routes (as well as others) it may have also increased the amount of crime.
In Europe, the average has risen from one out of four in 1997 to one out of three children born outside wedlock. Nowadays, national figures in Europe range from 5% in Greece and 9% in Cyprus to 58% in Estonia and 64% in Iceland. In Britain the rate increased to 44% (2006) and further to 46 % (2009; in Ireland the percentage increased to 33.2% (2006). In the USA, the percentage born extramaritally increased to 40%.
From Wikepedia entry. (Taken 28th June 2010)
The range is remarkable. In Greece, births outside marriage are rare. In Iceland they are the norm. This enormous range could mean something: that the rate of births outside marriage has not increased because of some often-mentioned things such as the pill, greater longevity or women's greater equality in law and work. It may be more a matter of changing laws, benefits and culture. In other words, it may significantly be something that we have control over.
In other words, it may be wrong to say, "Oh well, that is the way the world is changing.". Perhaps instead we should say, "something has been changing in our laws, benefit rules or culture which is causing in this. We might be able to affect it in future."
Some might like to suggest that the differences in rates result from religion. But Switzerland has a relatively low rate and shares religions with its neighbours. Ireland and Italy are both Catholic countries but have widely differing rates.
Here is a link to the European Commission figures.
(Based on a talk at the Liberales Institut, Zurich 10/6/10)
The England team was preparing recently for the football World Cup championship and had a ‘friendly’ game. During the game, one of England’s outstanding players, Wayne Rooney, disagreed with the referee and told him so in foul language. The local referee was disgusted. He gave Rooney a yellow card and took the unusual step of revealing that Rooney had said to him ‘f--- you!’
The British press was appalled. But not appalled at the fact that Rooney was criticising and insulting the referee. No, that did not bother them at all. They were concerned, rather, that Rooney’s fits of temper made the England team vulnerable. Several former players and managers voiced their opinion that opposing teams would be well advised to ‘wind him up’ and thus get him to commit a foul or an assault which would cause him to be sent off.
Terry Butcher, a former played quoted in the Sun, suggested
...that the manager of the USA team, which was to play England first in the championship, should tell his backs to insult Rooney and even punch him. Even for British culture, it is unusual for a newspaper to quote someone recommending a totally unprovoked assault. This is what sportsmanship has come to in Britain today. It is shameful and a complete contrast to the values that existed fifty years ago.
The attitudes of Rooney and Butcher contrast starkly with those of players in the past. A former senior referee, Mervyn Griffiths, was the referee at a particularly celebrated cup final in England in 1953. He wrote about football at that time, “Players were better behaved. There was more sportsmanship than gamesmanship in those days… There were not big arguments and demonstrations when I had the whistle. It makes my hair stand on end when I see players today surrounding a referee, hurling abuse and even laying hands on him. Such a thing was unheard of.”
This is just one example – and there are many – of how behaviour has changed in Britain in the past 50 years. The deterioration has been extraordinary.
And here is another recent experience in which I have seen a big contrast in behaviour.
When Poland joined the European Union, the British government, unlike most in the European Union, allowed unlimited entry of workers. Hundreds of thousands came. I met a lot of them. A large number worked in the building trade. In my home I had Polish carpenters, electricians, stoneworkers, general labourers and so on and on. It was an astonishing experience. Why? Because they were so polite. They turned up at 8am exactly. I could sometimes see them waiting outside so that they would not inconvenience me by being early. They worked solidly and well, taking only short breaks before leaving at 4pm. They never demanded tea or coffee. They never played radios. This was a huge contrast to the British and Irish workers I had known in the previous decades. They would often not arrive on the day they had promised and they turned up at any time that suited them. The played their radios and took offence if you asked them to turn the radios off. They would leave at any time, saying they would be back the next day but then they were not.
This huge contrast was striking but I drew no particular conclusions. But then I began to a day, a few years later, when I was rung by a radio station in Poland. The caller said, “Our government is planning to introduce a welfare state. Would you like to comment?”
I had already written my book about the welfare state in Britain but it took me a while to realise the implications of his question. We think of the communist states as the ultimate in left-wing rule. But actually, many of them did not have a welfare states anything like the British one. They therefore avoided some of our welfare state’s effect on behaviour. Poland, though Communist, had not had a welfare state like that of Britain. Could that be why the behaviour of its tradesmen was so superior to that of the British equivalents?
At this point, ideally, I would move on from a couple of anecdotes to give you undeniable proof that welfare states tend to damage behaviour. I would then explain exactly how and why the process happens. Finally I would describe what the policies are that would be accepted in a democratic country and would put everything right. Unfortunately I can’t manage this ideal. In Britain, at least, we are still at the foothills of the mountain in examining and explaining these things. Our academic community has been spectacularly slow and unenterprising in making any study at all. Perhaps that is because academic life in Britain has been nationalised.
All I can do – certainly in the time I have – is suggest the sort of way in which I believe the process works – how moral and decent behaviour can be undermined by welfare states.
I believe that it is in the nature of human beings for their characters to be strongly influenced by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Welfare states change our circumstances. They change the pre-existing state of affairs in which people’s characters develop. I suggest that in the circumstances prior to the welfare state, people were, in general, encouraged or obliged to behave in certain ways we which consider moral, kind or decent. The welfare state changed this.
To see how this works, I ask you to imagine you are living in 1890. You are neither rich nor terribly poor. You are working class. You are one of the majority.
You are in work but naturally you are aware that if you lost your job or became ill, you would not be able to work and get an income. You might become penniless. You, your wife and family might not have enough food. If the worst came to the worst, there would be the workhouse but you would not want to end up there. So what do you do? You, like the vast majority of industrial workers, join one or more of the many Friendly Societies that existed at that time. These Friendly Societies were an extraordinary phenomenon of 19th century Britain. They grew from a small base into the most widespread form of welfare provision prior to the welfare state. Other countries had different arrangements, some of them based on the church.
The British friendly society was a remarkable kind of organisation. You paid your monthly subscription and for this you were insured against unemployment and illness. In many of them you also would get the services of a doctor and/or a hospital if need be.
OK, let’s pretend you get sick. Members of the local branch of your Friendly Society come round to see you. If you are genuinely ill, they will sympathise. They will let you have the money you are entitled to. They may even help your wife in looking after you or looking after your children. These are men whom you see every month at the meetings of the friendly society. But if they see that you are in fact in fine health, looking after your garden or mending your bicycle, they will be outraged. They will not give you the money and your reputation will be shattered. You may even be expelled from the society.
You have a good reputation and it is extremely important to you to keep it.
Your job is also extremely important to you, too. Without it, you are in a very bad way. So again, your reputation is important to you. You need to have a good reference so that if you are not needed in your current work, you will be able to get another job. Gertrude Himmelfarb in one of her books on 19th century thinking and behaviour describes how working class men used to carry a reference in their pockets. They were proud of a good reference and would produce it as needed.
Again, without a generous welfare state, you really wanted to have savings built up in case of need. During the 19th century, saving developed at a fantastic rate. You saved to be rich enough to be able to afford to marry. You saved to help pay for the school fees or contributions which the thousands of private and charitable schools might require.
Since you know, from your own experience, how life can be uncertain, you also give to charity. According to one survey, half of the working and artisan class gave to charity on a regular basis.
I must say, I am beginning to like and admire you.
You are a man who works hard, who tries to ensure he behaves properly to keep his good reputation. You take responsibility for your family. And you give to charity.
Of course there were some awful people, too. But I can certainly provide some evidence that people were much better behaved in the late Victorian times and particularly in the first half of the 20th century.
The welfare state changed all this.
For a start, they destroyed the friendly societies. These were crowded out by compulsory contributions to national unemployment insurance and later by the creation of the national health service.
So what happens to you now – or at least in the recent past - if you lose your job? You might go onto a benefit for the unemployed for a while. But you might be advised by a friend or even the government agency that you would be better off going onto a benefit for incapacity. There has been a vast increase in the numbers claiming they have bad backs or suffer from depression. Whichever benefit you go onto, you will not be monitored carefully. No one in your area may know which benefit you are on even whether you are on a benefit at all. No one will care if you work on the side. The money will not be coming out of their pockets.
Let us say that a little later you become physically well and also able to find work, though the job would be low-paid. You may take the work and conscientiously inform the benefit office. But many do not. Some do not take the work. Some take the work but fail to mention it to the benefits office. This is called ‘working and claiming’.
It is very easy and because of this, you are tempted to take this route. You are tempted, in other words, to be dishonest. You may also, in order to justify to yourself your behaviour, develop a great sense of entitlement. “I deserve this money. I paid my national insurance when I was working. I even pay taxes when I buy things in the shops!” The tendency is to become, instead of like the late 19th century man, someone who takes responsibility for himself, to become instead someone who demands that the state take responsibility for you and yours.
Through this kind of process, the welfare state has created unemployment. Worse that this, it has created permanent mass unemployment. This permanent unemployment on a mass scale never existed prior to the welfare state.
Unemployment, in turn, has its effect on the psychology and behaviour of human beings. It is immensely depressing. Unlike divorce, from which one gradually may recover, the depression and alienation from unemployment tends to get worse, the longer it goes on.
One aspect of this depression – especially for young males – is a sense of alienation. This can lead to anger and willingness to damage things. Perhaps it can also lead to not caring what others think and being rude. There is some evidence it can even lead to crime among the young.
In Britain, there is another way in which the welfare state has damaged behaviour. Special subsidies in money and housing have been offered to those people who have children outside marriage. Not surprising to an economist is the idea that if you give people extra money for something, more people do it. So it is that Britain has become the European capital for children being born outside marriage.
This has damaging effects on the women involved, the men and also the children. Not in every case, of course. There are many individuals who manage very well. But on average, lone mothers tend to be more depressed than those who are married. Government figures show among the other disadvantages the women endure are that that they are more likely to hurt or injured than married mothers.
The men, finding they can get away with it, are more likely to go on being promiscuous and fathering other children whom they will also not look after. The men therefore go without the socialising effect of marriage and of caring for a family.
But the children are the worst affected. There are many figures to show this. Here is just one: the sons of lone parents are 2.7 times more likely to truant from school. That is after adjustment for the socio-economic status of the parents. They are also more likely to become delinquents.
So the intervention of the welfare state in parenting has, in sum, caused underachievement, incivility - including crime -, alienation and irresponsibility.
One further factor has been the mass creation in Britain of what is caused social housing. This used to mean the creation of vast housing estates, many of which still exist though fewer than originally because a remarkable number have had to be destroyed because they became so awful no one wanted to live in them. This social housing may have caused bad social effects in many ways. Initially at least, and perhaps still, they have disrupted families. People may be given accommodation a long way from their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. They lost a close support network which surely was socialising in its effect.
In addition, the large council blocks were ones in which no one owned large parts of the property and so felt no responsibility to maintain it in a good state. Many blocks became places that were frightening at night and even in the day time. The maintenance was poor, leading to broken lifts. They became ideal places for gangs to roam.
To this list you might like to add a few more factors that are more speculative. Now that people feel that healthcare and education are free, the importance of earning a good wage and being careful with your money has automatically been reduced. Similarly, for women, when choosing who will be their mate and keep the finances going when they are bearing children, the importance of finding a mate who appears reliable and hard-working has gone down. It does not matter so much if the man is a ne’er-do-well. The key issue may just be whether she fancies him. So there is less advantage for a man who wishes to attract a female in being a reliable earner.
So what have we got, in summary?
Prior to the welfare state, the circumstances of life created a lot of pressure to be responsible and to work , to have a good reputation and to save.
After the welfare state – or the British one at least – benefits allowed the creation of mass unemployment, which is alienating. It made mass fraud in unemployment very tempting and easy which encouraged dishonesty as a matter of routine. It possibly encouraged crime as well. The benefits in Britain also encouraged lone parenting which caused further alienation for all three parties – the mother, father and child and there is data to support the idea that the children are more likely to become delinquent and then criminal.
Then it created social housing which broke up the social support and civilising effects of family. They also created places where nobody was responsible for shared areas and these became havens for gangs and places of intimidation.
Put all these together and you have a recipe for the de-civilisation of a country. This is what has been happening in Britain, I believe. Other countries have their welfare states, but few have gone as far as Britain – or perhaps have done it so badly. Few have suffered effects as serious as Britain. Other countries should take Britain as a warning and hope they do not create a culture which gives rise to footballing ‘stars’ whose behaviour is like that of Wayne Rooney and whose newspapers quoted former players suggesting that punching an opponent would be a sensible thing to do.
(Some of the material in this entry was taken from The Welfare State We're In.)
Civitas has produced some useful fact sheets on different areas of policy. It has also summarised the policy proposals of each party in each of these areas.
The figure that caught my eye from the 'family' section was:
Time spent caring for own children per day, UK 2005 
* Fathers - 15 minutes
* Mothers - 32 minutes
I find it rather shocking. British parents really seem to have contracted out the care of their children.
It would be interesting to see the amount of time divided up into family types and socio-economic groups.
If an unemployed Pole gets a job as a barista in Starbucks, even for 15 hours a week, his situation improves dramatically. A young man in Britain would be just £10 a week better off than if he stayed at home on benefits. Why break your back for an extra tenner?
The situation is even more pernicious for young women who leave school with low qualifications, because the alternative to low-paid work is pregnancy. A woman with one child and on benefits has, on average, more disposable income than a hairdresser or teaching assistant. With two children, it's more than a receptionist or library assistant. With three, it's a lab technician, typist or bookkeeper. So there should be no mystery about why Britain came to have so many children in workless households (one in five, the highest in Europe). The young mothers, and the young men on benefits, are walking down a road to dependency paved for them by the state.
This is a peculiar definition of compassion. What Beveridge denounced as the "giant evil" of idleness is now being incubated on a mass scale by the very welfare state designed to eradicate it.
This is from an excellent piece by Fraser Nelson in today's Telegraph. It repeats something that people like me have been saying for a long time but it is good to see it said anew and so well. The trouble is, as he says, that neither of the main parties seems likely to be willing to take the problem on. In fact, the one party which openly has a policy which would genuinely help is, to my surprise, the Liberal Democrat party which proposes that the personal tax allowance should be raised to £10,000.
Incidentally, it would be good to know what were the sources for his detailed assertions about how work does not pay.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report earlier this week about benefits and taxes under Labour. One of the authors commented,
Compared with 1997 those who had a weak incentive to work – especially lone parents – have seen an improvement in their incentive.
"But in order to pay for that Labour have had to raise taxes which has weakened the incentive to work of other groups.
Further to the post below, I receive in the mail today yet more research suggesting that living with both parents is important to the well-being of children. It is from the ISER.
Our research indicates that individuals who experience lone motherhood during childhood are more likely to smoke, and hence are at greater risk of poor lifetime health. This finding is clear cut according to models controlling for a wide range of observed confounding factors,and holds regardless of the socioeconomic origin of the young adult and the measure of smoking behaviour.
To take just one set of figures from the research: in the west German sample, 46% of young adults who lived with a lone mother during childhood smoked, compared with 32% from those who lived with two parents.
The ISER magazine comments that the research "is consistent with the views of medical professionals as well as psychologists that growing up in a family headed by a lone mother may raise an individual's stress levels and lower their self esteem with these factors, in turn, leading to a greater chance of smoking."
Dr Rake has done us at least one service. She has revealed very clearly that a significant body of Left-wing thought now has no special regard for the worth of traditional families. As a result, she has brought the issue into the public eye, stirring up voluble protests - at least in the Daily Telegraph, where I think here ideas were first reported - and the Daily Mail.
This is the report from yesterday:
The traditional nuclear family has irretrievably broken down and it will soon become normal for children to be raised by relations other than their parents, the head of a Government-funded parenting group has predicted. Nuclear family collapse will see aunts, uncles and grandparents step in, predicts policy chief The collapse of the nuclear family collapse will see aunts, uncles and grandparents take on more parenting roles, it is predicted
Aunts, uncles, grandparents and even siblings will take on increasing childcare responsibilities in a form of “communal parenting” to cope with the effects of marital breakdown and growing pressures in the workplace, according to the Family and Parenting Institute.
Rising divorce rates, fewer marriages and the growth of civil partnerships mean that the traditional family model is no longer “the norm” and Government efforts to rescue it are futile, according to Dr Katherine Rake, the organisation’s new chief executive.
Dr Rake will use her first major speech in the post to warn against the “trap” of attempting to preserve traditional family structures through Government initiatives.
She will also forecast a dramatic change in the role of parents in the next decade.
With mothers beginning to play a less dominant role in children’s lives because of greater work commitments, fathers will experience a change comparable in scale to that seen by women since the 1950s, she predicts.
An estimated two million families in Britain already rely the older generation for help with childcare while about 200,000 grandparents are now sole carers.
But the trend is set to rise with the “whole family” set to take on greater responsibility for children, Dr Rake said.
Her remarks on the decline of the nuclear family are likely to attract criticism in some quarters from those who say that there is no substitute for children being brought up by a mother and a father.
A major report on the state of British families being published today by the FPI to coincide with Dr Rake’s speech highlights how one in four children now live in a single-parent family, compared to only one in 14 in the early 1970s.
Almost half of children are now born outside marriage, against only one in 10 a generation ago.
Meanwhile the report highlights forecasts that 70 per cent of mothers will be working by next year, with an almost 40 per cent rise in the number of single mothers also in employment since the early 1990s.
It estimates that about 90 per cent of grandparents now provide some form of financial support for their grandchildren.
But rather than fragment, families will evolve to cope with the changes, according to Dr Rake.
She predicted that there will be no such thing as a “typical family” in the next 10 to 20 years.
“People are constantly redefining what it means to be a family,” she said.
“What we are seeing is that family shape is changing all the time, the notion of a traditional nuclear family …. certainly isn’t the norm now.”
She went on: “Because people are having children later and because there is more divorce and separation, what is happening is that people draw on resources from right across the family and their families can be more involved.”
In her speech, Dr Rake will add: “What policy-makers must not do is fall into the trap of investing large sums of money trying to reverse the tide of trends by trying to encourage more ‘traditional families’.
“Nor should parents allow them to fall back on old assumptions, which has meant mothers carrying the burden of changing families and parenting demands.”
The essential flaw in her reasoning and recommendations is simple: mothers and fathers have powerful instinctive urges to look after their own children. The same urges can be seen in many animal species, especially ones which are closely related to ours. This powerful urge to help and protect is not normally felt to the same degree, by any other adults be they siblings, uncles, aunts or even, perhaps, grandparents. It is certainly not felt by unrelated government employees.
So a child is most safe and most likely to receive love and support, even in difficult circumstances, from its mother and father. If that child has the benefit of both its natural parents being around, it is still more safe - as the statistics on child abuse dramatically prove. The idea that other people are just as good as the natural parents is demonstrably untrue.
Despite this, I do not think governments should emphasise giving special privileges to married people. Taken too far, that is interfering with the freedom of people to live their own lives as they wish. But what the government should do first and foremost is remove the subsidies that take away the natural reasons for marriage - particularly the special benefits for single parents that sometimes make it more financially rewarding for a couple at benefit level to split up than to stay together. The government at present, far from favouring marriage, favours broken families. This should be stopped.
On the tax side, I would like to see tax allowances for those parents who look after their children. Adults have tax allowances because they are understood to have basic costs to bear. The same applies to children and the parents who bear those basic costs should have the use of the child's tax allowance. It also would be reasonable for a couple to have transferable tax allowances so that one can work and the other can look after the children. In this way, the child is more likely to have a parent looking after him or her for more of the time.
Other countries do indeed have a wide variety of different rules on the subject. Edward Heatcoat Amory in the Daily Mail today has had a stab at finding out about some of them.
He offers one remarkable statistic:
single earner married couples with children on an average wage – pays 44 per cent more tax in Britain than the OECD average.
That figure, if it can be sourced and stands up, could go some way to explain why Britain is the lone parenting capital of the advanced world.
His full article is here, under one by Steve Doughty on Katharine Rake.
There has been an interestingly muted response to Gordon Brown's proposal of hostels for teenage mothers aged 16 and 17. Simon Hoggart in the Guardian referred to
a weird Victorian notion of an institution for fallen women – a barracks for single teenage mothers
and his colleague Polly Toybee said,
Sheltered housing with support is a good idea for the youngest teenage mums without families. But why make good schemes sound like sending them to a Victorian nunnery for punishment?
If a Tory government had suggested such a thing it is sure that there would have been shriek of outrage that unfortunate women were being 'victimised'.
If the Tories run with the idea or anything like it when/if they form the next government, the Left and people on Question Time and the BBC will be sure to turn on it with fury.
Here, then, is a reminder of why action of some sort has become desirable. It comes from Dynamic Benefit: towards welfare that works recently published by the Centre for Social Justice. It includes a graph showing that Britain is the unmarried parenting capital of Europe. The only country that is anywhere close to us is Ireland. The rest have a far lower incidence of unmarried mothers.
These are the proportions of households headed by an unmarried mother (figures from Eurostat, read off as best I can from the graph on page 117 of the report):
The reason we are the European capital for unmarried parenting is that we give higher benefits - in cash and housing - compared to money available from low-paid jobs than the other countries. Italy gives virtually nothing and unmarried parenting there is rare. It is not that the cash encourages young women to have children out of wedlock. It is rather that government, by giving - relatively speaking - so much money has ended the situation that has previously existed in Britain and still exists elsewhere: that it is a disaster for a young woman to have a child outside wedlock so she does all she can to avoid it.
To those who say that giving less money is harsh and that this is a humanitarian issue I will agree on this: it is indeed a humanitarian issue. A government which changes the natural order of things so that more children are produced by unmarried mothers without any means of support other than the state is creating a deluge of misery for the children that are created.
There are many kinds of evidence that the children are likely to do less well at school and turn to delinquency causing unhappiness to themselves and others, too. Here are just two figures from the same report (p120):
- 70% of young offenders are from lone parent families
- children from lone parent families are than 70% more likely to fail at school.
It is indeed a humanitarian issue and we should think of and speak for the children who are created by the policies that remove the natural disincentive to have children out of wedlock.
Here are ten pretty dramatic assertions about how Labour has affected the welfare of the poor during its twelve years in power. They are extracted from an article by Fraser Nelson in the The Spectator:
1. "Even by Labour’s favourite measure, the Gini index, which measures income gaps across various countries, inequality is at a record high — towering above the levels seen in the Thatcher years."
2. "Scandalously, the poorest 10 per cent now have a disposable income of £87 a week, down from £96 a week eight years ago."
3. "Foreign-born workers account for all net job creation in the private sector since 1997. That is to say, strip out the public sector and there are fewer British-born people in work now than in 1997."
4. "As for youth unemployment, that is now a third higher than when Labour took office."
5. "At no point since Labour came to power has the number on out- of-work benefits fallen below five million."
6. "Of these working-age people, 1.1 million — equivalent to the population of a city the size of Birmingham — have never worked a day in the Labour years."
7. "International surveys show school standards are declining, with the poorest hit worst."
8. "Studies set up in the early Labour years to track progress have in fact tracked decline."
9. "Infant mortality gaps between the rich and poor have — quite extraordinarily — widened under Labour."
10. "Ditto the gulf in life expectancy."
These points are mentioned almost casually in his article. But each is powerful. Assuming they are true, should be far better known. Television and radio interviewers should all be sent a copy to put the points to Labour ministers when they are crowing about their supposed successes. Tory shadows should repeat them frequently.
I would be glad if it were possible to have links to the sources of the data supporting these assertions. Fraser Nelson says in his article: "none of the above figures have [sic] been published by the government - this magazine lodged a request for their release".
It would be good if he would put the sources up online so the assertions could be repeated with confidence.
But the big point, which he makes well, is this: "The Prime Minister's greatest contribution to convervatism... has been to test to destruction the idea that money solves social problems."
And again, "Mr Brown's government spent like no other, and was socially regressive."
The study described below suggests a quick and powerful effect of welfare benefits on behaviour. It is all the more remarkable since the report is connected to the Institute for Fiscal Studies which, in the past, I would have associated with the view that giving money to the poor was an obviously good idea. I would not previously have expected this institute to worry about the perverse incentives this might create. But now this study makes a very dramatic claim: that the effect of benefit changes takes place almost straight away.
Of course I wholly agree that welfare benefits change behaviour. I would argue further than they change people's morality. But I have always taken the cautious view that it takes a long time for benefit changes to do all this. I have found it hard to imagine a woman thinking to herself as she is deciding whether or not to have sex (or whether to have it with contraception) "Yes, I think I will go ahead, unprotected. After all, I calculate that benefits for lone parents have gone up ten per cent."
But who knows? Perhaps I have been overcautious. I hope that I might find the time in the future to read the report in detail.
Here is part of the the Daily Telegraph report:
The study, Does Welfare Reform Affect Fertility?, looks at the impact on the birth rate in the UK caused by reform of child benefits launched by Labour.
It says that the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit and an increase in Income Support between 1999 and 2003 triggered a rise in taxpayer spending on children "unprecedented" in the previous 30 years.
Because the reforms were targeted at the poorest families with children, the value of their state handouts increased by 10 per cent of their total household income.
For couples who both left school at 16, the reforms meant an increase in benefits of 45 per cent, from £39 a week to £56.76. This is a rise almost twice as much as the handouts for which a couple who went on to sixth form college would be eligible, which increased by 25 per cent to £37.27 a week.
The researchers then looked at fertility rates both before the reforms were announced and after, for a sample of 101,330 women aged between 20 and 45.
They found a large increase in the first year after the benefits were made more generous, particularly among women who had left school as soon as possible.
The results show a 15 per cent increase in the probability of having a baby in the "low education group", equivalent to an extra 45,000 births compared with 670,000 across Britain as a whole.
Overall there has been a steady rise in the birth rate since 2001, and although some of this is down to higher fertility among immigrants, even among women born in the UK it has risen from 1.68 births per woman in 2004 to 1.79 last year.
In addition, analysis of household surveys found large numbers of poorly-educated women who said they were not using contraception because they wanted to have children.
The study, led by Sarah Smith of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University, is published in the autumn issue of the journal Research in Public Policy.
There have been 20 occasions since 2004 on which gang members have fired guns in the Croxteth and Norris Green areas where Rhys Jones was killed. The gang members start as early as 12. They come from broken, workless homes and start out as couriers or look-outs for the older members. Then they progress up the pecking order, their rising status measured by the viciousness of the crimes they have committed.
Sean Mercer, the youth who killed Rhys Jones, has been stopped by police on an astonishing 80 occasions by the police. He scorned them and their lack of ability to arrest him and other gang members.
It is surely impossible to deny the association between the social breakdown – the unmarried parenting and the worklessness in Norris Green and Croxteth – and the development of these gangs.
In Norris Green, more than half the people are in social housing and the workless rate is 35 per cent – far above the national average. A worrying number of council house and housing association estates have turned into ghettoes of hopelessness, vandalism, crime and fear. A poll by YouGov on behalf of the Centre for Social Justice found that a third of social tenants nationwide feel that where they live is not ‘reasonably safe’. Nearly half won’t say that they trust their neighbours and 40 per cent don’t believe that the local schools provide a good education.
The underclass has grown and become concentrated in many council estates. What are we going to do about it?
Yes, of course we can start by tightening up the weaknesses in the policing, prosecuting and sentencing. These communities have a crisis on their hands and it is offensive that police time is taken up with so much paperwork. It is absurd that the police should have had such knowledge or the wrongdoings of Sean Mercer yet been somehow unable to send him to a corrective institution. The weakness of our justice system – and those who made it so weak – bears a responsibility for the death of Rhys Jones.
So, yes, it would help if Labour finally fulfilled its long-ago promise to be ‘tough on crime’. But we need to go much deeper. One of the major causes of crime is the way many estates have become centres of unemployment and unmarried parenting. There is plenty of evidence that unmarried parenting leads to a greater likelihood of children becoming delinquents. Add that to a concentration of unemployment on a council estate and the result can be extremely toxic.
Council housing has been around for well over a century. Originally it was allocated to the respectable and even prosperous working class. It was a reward and a privilege for people considered worthy of it. It was also for those who had been compulsorily or otherwise moved out of housing areas designated as slums.
But then in 1949, the allocation of council housing began to change. It began to be granted to people on the basis of need rather than worth. In 1977, this way of doing things became compulsory. And so began the downward spiral of Britain’s council estates. Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham described it like this last year: “If you walk in and say ‘I’m homeless’ you get a greater priority than if you walk in and say ‘I’ve managed to do something for myself but I’m still looking for a council property’”. I could add that if you walk in and say, “I’m homeless and I’ve got a baby” then you jump ahead as if you were playing snakes and ladders.
So the system now makes the life-choice of being unmarried and workless easier to fall into. Not actually attractive, but less obviously awful. Worse still, it makes it almost impossible to get out the trap. Once you have council or social housing and are in receipt of housing benefit and council tax benefit you will find it difficult to discover a job which would bring in much more money after you are obliged to give up these benefits.
Housing benefit is the dark secret of the whole benefits system. People often say the Jobseekers’ Allowance and Income Support are tiny. They say no one would be discouraged from working because they get one of these benefits. Perhaps. But once you add on housing benefit and council tax relief and other so-called ‘passport’ benefits, the maths change substantially. The council estates have become quagmires from which few escape. Would you like to guess how many people move out of council estates each year? It is mere four per cent. Once you are in, it is practically for life. A large minority of people are living in these estates, subsidized by everyone else and living low-quality lives.
Reform is desperately needed. But even after 11 years in power, Labour is still in the position where it is only promising a green paper next year. In other words, it has not thought the unthinkable. It has buried its head in the sand.
What should be done? First, one must surely allow those of retirement age to live out their lives in peace in the council homes they have known for years. But after that, we should no longer be content to let this disastrous social experiment continue as it is. Those of working age should be required to seek work if they get subsidised rents or housing benefit. The tenancies should not be for life but for limited periods – an idea that is being taken on in the Netherlands. Tenants should be given every encouragement to become the owners or partial owners of their properties. Unmarried parents should no longer jump up the housing lists compared to those who have worked and planned for their futures.
Such a programme – allied with a more purposeful justice system - could make a dramatic difference. Some may say the government would need a lot of political courage to do such things. But many of us – especially those in council estates – will need a lot of courage to face the future of increased unemployment, crime and fear that will result if we do nothing.
The above is the original draft of an article which appears in today's Daily Express.
Thwe full report on housing by the Centre for Social Justice is here.
NOTES AHEAD OF THE WHITE PAPER ON WELFARE REFORM
Britain has more than four million people who are of working age but who are claiming benefit on the basis that they are not working. This is the case after more than a decade of economic growth. The figure is likely to rise substantially now that we have entered a recession.
The numbers who are claiming benefits in this way are about four times the equivalent figure in the 1960s. This has been a massive increase and it shows particularly in the number claiming benefit on the basis that they are sick or incapable and then number claiming benefit as lone parents.
This enormous change in our society has been and remains extremely damaging.
1. Living on benefits and not on earned income is demoralising and disaffecting for many people. It has a tendency (though of course this does not always happen) to change the values of those affected. People are sorely tempted to go on claiming benefits when they know, in fact, they are no longer genuinely entitled to them. Karen Matthews, allegedly, was tempted to have more children for the bad reason that she would get more benefits and perhaps larger accomodation. Women are tempted not to care so much whether a man who fathers a child with her actually stays around. Men consequently feel they no longer have a duty to take responsibility for children they father. Unintended consequences such as these reverberate through a benefits culture.
2. The unemployed are depressed as is evidenced by the increased likelihood of them becoming ill, committing suicide, drinking and smoking more than others and dying.
3. Children brought up in families in which no one has worked are twice as likely to have psychiatric disorders (this telling statistic comes from the government-commissioned report by Professor Gregg published a week or so ago).
4. The benefits system has led to enormous growth in lone parenting and absent fathers. It is well established that children of lone parents and absent fathers tend to less well in life, tend to be less happy and have a greater likelihood of becoming delinquent. (Of course this is a tendency, not true in every or indeed many cases. I should also add that the evidence for this holds true even after allowance is made for class, wealth and other factors which might be thought to be a cause of children's good or bad outcomes.)
5. The welfare benefits have to be paid for out of taxing those who are working. This is, in many cases, simply unfair. It is also distressing to think of able-bodied people claiming benefits and the cost being paid for in part by taxing, for example, elderly people with very low incomes.
6. The fact that millions of able-bodied people are not working means that Britain's economic output and growth is lower than it would otherwise be.
What the present administration has done:
- it has reduced the value of benefits in comparison to earnings (continuing the policy instituted by Lady Thatcher)
- It has created various schemes of encouragement and training to try to get people to work.
- Incapacity benefit has continued to be paid on more attractive terms than unemployment benefit
RESULT There has been a big reduction in the number claiming unemployment benefit/jobseekers' allowance since 1997. (Personally I suspect the reduction in the value of the benefits is the more important cause of this change.)
Sickness and incapacity benefits
- There has been some mild tightening up on the checks on people and some encouragement to take up work.
RESULT The numbers of such benefits are a little higher now than in 1997. These benefits are now the benefit of choice for those who are unemployed. (As well, of course, as being the benefit which is paid to those who have genuine incapacity to work.)
Benefits to lone parents
- Little change except the general reduction of benefits in comparison with earnings.
- Some extra pressure on mothers with older children to take up work. This pressure is now due to increase especially on those with an oldest child of 12 or more.
RESULT A small reduction in the numbers of lone parents claiming benefits.
OVERALL VIEW OF THIS ADMINISTRATION'S PERFORMANCE
The Labour government basically funked it. President Clinton had signed into law a radical change in the USA which resulted a 60 per cent reduction in the numbers claiming welfare benefits. Other countries, according to Professor Gregg, also sharply increased the conditionality of their welfare benefits. Britain has made only marginal progress. The welfare culture with the damaging effects it has on national culture has been allowed to continue.
THE CURRENT PROPOSALS IN THE WHITE PAPER
At the time of writing, these have not been published. If the leaks are accurate, the proposals will tighten up the conditions more and offer more assistance to people in getting work. This is welcome. But it will still be modest compared to what has happened in America. It sounds as though there will be little in the way of workfare or in requiring people to turn up every week either to work or to try to get work (important elements of the reform in New York State, for example).
A Daily Telegraph leader on Saturday puts the case for tough welfare reform. Of course it is a case with which I agree and it is satisfying, well over 15 years since I conceived the idea of writing The Welfare State We're In to see one of the main contentions of the book supported in a major national newspaper. But, as I have said before, our best chance of a major advance will be when the Guardian and even presenters of the Today progamme or Newsnight take the same view.
The conclusion of the Telegraph leader:
Ten years ago, Labour identified a moral case for welfare reform, but, like so much with this Government, it was mere rhetoric.
Another attempt is to be made in the current parliament, but it offers no greater prospect of success than the last.
Unless a far tougher approach is adopted, another generation of children will be born into this cycle of state-sponsored hopelessness.
Sadly, Polly Toynbee in the Guardian appears unwilling to accept that things are getting worse or that welfare and housing benefits are the root cause. She wrote on Saturday:
But this is not a story of broken Britain going to hell in a hand cart; it is a picture of small but deep and persistent dysfunction passed from generation to generation. Social historians looking at Charles Booth's maps of poverty in Victorian Britain find the same areas still in deep poverty, often the descendants of those he studied. The seven Matthews children or Baby P's siblings have a slender chance of growing up to be good parents, as abuse, neglect and lack of love are passed on indelibly.
I would urge her to read the Duncan Smith article below which offers at least some evidence that this constant level of people in great difficulties that she suggests does not actually exist. The levels of dependency, worklessness and crime have all risen dramatically. Moreover the evidence from Charles Booth is not all as most people suppose as this earlier post reveals.
If you read little else on this website, I hope you will at least read this extract from an article by Iain Duncan Smith in the Saturday Daily Telegraph. It describes the problem well and with some data which I had not seen before.
Britain is witnessing a growth in an underclass whose lifestyles affect everyone. Perhaps the reason why most people haven't been aware of the extent of this is because housing policy has, over 20 to 30 years, ghettoised many of these dysfunctional families.
In the Seventies, only 11 per cent of households on the estates weren't working; today barely a third of working-age tenants have full-time work. Less than 15 per cent are headed by a couple with children. Two-thirds are occupied by lone parents, lone men or lone women.
On such estates, few children see a positive father figure, with young men having children by different mothers, with the state covering the cost.
Small wonder that alcoholism rates are high and drug dealers ply their trade in full view of young families. This social breakdown leads far too many young boys into street gangs.
Although gangs are criminal and bound together by harsh discipline, the leader acts as an authority figure and the gang's strong ties and loyalties perversely replicate the family they never had. As gangs clash, residents suffer from the violence and high levels of crime.
These young boys are on their way to a life of crime. You don't have to take my word for it - look at the background of those who as young offenders end up in custody.
Over three-quarters of them are from broken homes, just under half of them experienced violence in the home and half of them have educational levels below an 11-year-old.
Girls suffer too. Many have grown up in dysfunctional families where their mothers had children as teenagers and they have shared the house with a string of "guesting fathers". Too many will repeat the lives of their mothers.
Families like this are much more at risk of abuse than any other. Recent NSPCC research has shown that a child growing in such a family structure is up to six times more likely to suffer abuse, which is why the social services are under growing pressure.
The cases of Baby P and Shannon Matthews have led to demands that more children be taken into care, yet in the past ten years 20 per cent more children have been taken into care. Furthermore, the outcomes for those youngsters are appalling.
Nearly half of all the under-21s in the criminal justice system have been in care, only 12 per cent gain five A-C GCSEs and a third of all homeless people have been in care.
When social services do take the child, too often the young mother goes off and has another child, which will more than likely end up in care as well.
The full article is here.
Here is a link to the Centre for Social Justice report on "housing poverty".
It is astonishing the way that news and opinion work in Britain. Today, suddenly there is a focus on the idea that the welfare state created Karen Matthews, the woman who arranged for the kidnap of her own daughter.
The key to this seems to be that one of her lovers asserted that she had given birth to more babies to increase her welfare benefits.
In my book, I put the argument that the welfare state had undermined the morality of those most affected by it, namely those at the poorer end of society. I suggested it had damaged our culture and caused misery on a massive scale.
It is fascinating to see the arguments I put very carefully and with as much relevant evidence that I could muster put now in a really pugnacious and blunt way.
I don't want to associate myself with all the views expressed in the Sun today but they certainly overlap with mine. I agree that Karen Matthews is a creation of the welfare state. I certainly agree with the Sun that the need for reform is urgent. Sadly, the beneficial effects of reform would take a generation to come through. When views such as these are expressed in the Guardian and by presenters of the Today programme on Radio 4 or on Newsnight, then there will be a chance of reform actually happening.
From the Sun editorial:
If ever there was a story to make you hold your head in disbelief, this is it.
How could a MOTHER have her own little girl drugged, kidnapped, tethered like an animal and stuffed in a drawer under a bed?
Vile Karen Matthews is a product of the sink-estate underclass of chaotic families that loaf away their days on easy welfare benefits.
She is a one-woman advertisement for urgent welfare reform.
Slumped in front of her big TV, chain-smoking 60 a day and stuffing herself with pizza, Matthews didn’t give a damn for her kids.
By 30 she’d had seven children by five fathers and was raking in £360 a week in handouts.
One of her grubby lovers said: “She used us just to get pregnant so she could grab more child benefit.”
From John Gaunt's column:
The tragedy is that — just as there will be another Baby P case — there are plenty more Shannons being dragged up in a life of grime that leads to a life of crime.
To blame are the feral parents who couldn’t spell the word parenthood, let alone know the meaning of it.
Whole estates are infested by this underclass. They are not working class — the clue is in the title — they don’t and won’t work.
They have no pride in their homes or areas. They have no respect for themselves, let alone their neighbours or children. They have a moral code that would make an alley cat blush.
They have a lawyer’s expert knowledge of their rights but, sadly, no idea of their responsibilities to their kids or society in general. This is an underclass that New Labour have allowed to fester with their lax “non-judgmental, all kinds of family are equal” social engineering attitude.
But these people aren’t equal to you and me, and they need to be told so before they are allowed to breed another generation that will only be more irresponsible and useless.
We have a sickening situation where those of us who actually work spend more than £170billion of our taxes on social security. That is in addition to the £16billion spent on incapacity benefit.
It’s ironic that Matthews was convicted one day after Labour promised ANOTHER crackdown on welfare dependency.
Scrape beneath the surface of this new “get tough on benefit fraud” policy and you see it is the same old Labour spin. The depressing reality is that, even if the Government were serious, they have left it too late to crack down on the feral, feckless and long-term useless.
In large parts of the country people like Karen Matthews have won, and TV programmes like Shameless aren’t fiction but documentaries of their lives.
The welfare state was set up to be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice, and it is time to return to those principles.
Only those who have paid into the system through NI or tax contributions should be allowed to claim anything out of the pot. If this were applied, it would soon rule out junkies, new arrivals or people like Karen Matthews.
We should also time-limit benefits, as they have done in the US, to force the shirkers back to work.
We need to break the cycle.
These people have chosen a life of benefit dependency because they have been allowed to do so.
Never before, with the world in economic crisis, has there been such a need for urgent reform.
With hard-working people facing the prospect of losing their homes and their savings, I don’t see why the decent majority of Brits should shoulder the responsibility of the bone idle any longer.
Just as the death of Baby P must signal a complete change in social services, so must the conviction of Karen Matthews lead to a change in our Benefits R Us society.
The redoubtable Norman Dennis has a letter in the Daily Telegraph today that is worth many long but less well-informed articles. The most fascinating part of it is that he cites Charles Booth as his source. Booth is usually used by those who defend mass government welfare. But Dennis is one of the rare people who have actually read his work and finds that it is not all quite what we had been led to expect:
Sir - We seem to want to take comfort in the belief that child abuse was just as common in the past.
Child abuse to the death is many times more common where the mother was not married to the father and the present boyfriend is not the child's father. Those household arrangements are many times more common than in the past.
We need not depend on theory. The great empirical study of slum life in Victorian England was Charles Booth's survey of the East End of London. Of child abuse he wrote: "I can only speak as I have found: wholesome, pleasant family life … affectionate relationships of husbands and wives, mothers and sons, elders and children."
From 13 volumes of observations, he concluded that this "agreeable picture" applied to 98.75 per cent of the population of East End slums - chosen by him as the worst in England. The "dangerous class" accounted for 1.25 per cent, and these few "fouled the reputation of the poor".
Would that it were 1.25 per cent today. Yet Booth is often quoted as the authority on the social disorder and moral squalor that the welfare state removed.
Norman Dennis, Director of Community Studies, Civitas, London SW1
I wonder if this is true? A person who commented on the Daily Mail website on the story below, wrote:
In The Netherlands a single mother with a child is not entitled to claim benefits or social housing until aged 22. This makes young women more likely to be careful about teenage pregnancy and get on with their education and lives instead of stuck in a hole of state dependency.
- Adam, UK
If this is indeed true, it casts a different light on the debate on teenage pregnancy in the UK. Usually the argument is all about sex education and I think, if memory serves, it is suggested that the Netherlands has a particularly open form of sex education which, it is suggested, does no harm because the teenage pregnancy rate is lower that Britain's. But if this commenter on the Daily Mail website is correct, it would seem quite possible that in fact any lower teenage pregnancy rate could be due to the benefits system rather than the nature of sex education. It might be that the benefits system is the most influential kind of sex education around.
I have just been to a talk given by Charles Murray, the American intellectual who has been so influential in the matter of state welfare and the damage it has done. He spoke about his idea for reform - an idea described fully in his book In Our Hands.
His idea, briefly, is this: that the government should give every person US$10,000 a year in place of all welfare benefits, retirement payments and healthcare. Of this, US$3,000 would have to be used to buy health insurance.
I hope he will forgive me if I misreport some of his remarks. I do not have shorthand.
He said he was not primarily concerned that the welfare state costs too much "though it does", nor that it tends to make things worse "though it does" but that it "drains" the life out of people - particularly the spiritual life and sense of meaning.
He believed that people derive a sense of meaning in their lives in one or more of the following four ways: vocation, community, family and faith. For these things to retain their meaning, it was vital that government should leave them alone.
He offered his sense of how Europeans defined the purpose of life these days. He felt they think that the idea is to have a pleasant time until you die. He felt that they no longer believe that life has a special or transcendental meaning. Their priorities seem to be holidays and shorter working hours. The idea that work can have meaning in their lives has faded. Their belief in marriage, too, has dwindled. They even are no longer so ready to put their children's interests above their own. There has been a secularisation of society. People now think they are a combination of chemicals which, after a while, would "de-activate".
This may be a caricature of how Europeans think but it is not so very far from how a lot of Britons think. His view is influenced, I think by the fact that he is a believer - and believers in God are probably more widespread and fervent in America than in Britain. It is his religion that perhaps makes him more shocked by some of the behaviour in Britain than non-religious people are.
In fact, I would suggest that America's continuing belief in God helped to get through the welfare reform of 1997. Many simply thought that it was wrong, for instance, that there should be special government payments for those having children outside marriage. It was against God's law. (American religion is, perhaps, different from what remains of British religion in that, here in Britain, the church has given up on morality and tends to take a socialist approach, calling for more big government).
He said that if his plan were introduced, behaviour would be affected. There would be 'feedback loops'. I think he implied that a girl would be less inclined to get pregnant out of wedlock if she knew she would get no extra money from the government. She would also be able to get money from the father because his regular money from the government would be paid to a known bank account and money could be taken from it. This would, Murray suggested, affect his behaviour, too. He would be more cautious about making women pregnant.
The idea of 'feedback loops', such as described above, is crucial to understanding how the welfare state has undermined behaviour. The welfare state has, in many ways, taken away the feedbacks which a society without state welfare used to supply.
Among these, Murray emphasised, is stigma. He said "stigma is wonderful" and "it is extremely powerful" and he suggested it was rarely a bad thing except in novels.
My take on Charles Murray's proposal is this:
I am struck first of all by how he admitted that this was a compromise. He said he was making an offer to the Left. They would be allowed to keep big spending - since his plan would continue big state spending. But it would be in a different form that would curtail many of the bad effects of state welfare.
Many times I have been asked, when giving talks about my book, "so what is the answer?" I have always felt it is impossible to give a satisfactory answer. The ideal solution - minimal state welfare - would probably not be politically acceptable in a democracy. But reforms that would be politically acceptable would probably not be radical enough to make a 'good society'.
What Murray has done is come up with an admitted compromise. But I wonder whether even this compromise would hold. I can imagine some hard luck stories that would be played out at length on TV and radio and would cry out for action by the government. Gradually, the whole thing might fall apart. I fear that in a democracy there is a tendency for people to look to government to sort out every problem. I fear that even in America, the will to say: "let the chips fall where they may - the net good to society will still overwhelmingly come from a low welfare state society" is not likely to be strong enough in the face of such stories.
I have come to fear that all advanced societies are becoming more and more welfare state dependent and that people in these countries are gradually being changed more and more by these welfare states. The welfare state gives you money if you have children out of wedlock, it gives you money if you don't work, if gives you money if you are well but you pretend to be ill and it declines money it would have given you if you have saved. I agree with Charles Murray that the worst effect of the welfare state is on the character of the people it affects (mostly the less well off). I would love to see major reform but I fear that over the long term, reform will not last and that the damage done to society will continue.
If this happens around the advanced world, we are really talking about a whole civilisation in decline. Is this too gloomy? I hope so.
Alongside this story in the Telegraph was a box of "Family Facts and Figures". One of them was:
70 per cent of young criminals have lone parents
22 per cent of children live with a lone mother.
This would appear to be further evidence that lone parenting makes it more likely that children will become delinquent. It does, of course, have to treated with care since it is possible that children of lone parents are more likely to suffer from some other problem that causes them to be more likely to be criminal. In other words, it is conceivable that the evidence is misleading. On the other hand, there is plenty of well-researched analysis that leads one to believe that this bare statistic powerfully reflects an important truth.
I am very interested in the origin of this 70 per cent figure. Previously the British government, unlike the American, has been reluctant to make any analysis of the family background of convicted criminals. It has been as if it did not want to know. So where does this figure come from? Is it in the Freud report?
Here is a link to the David Freud report published today that was commissioned by the government.
I was on Radio 5 Live last night debating some of the ideas. One of the other speakers was a woman whose youngest son was 16 and who had been on benefits for the past 16 years.
She objected to the 'demonisation' of lone parents. She said she could not work for various reasons, including ill health. But the crux of the matter seemed to be that, to her, it appeared financially impossible or, at least, disadvantageous for her to work.
She said she could not afford the childcare costs. She had no family to help look after her children. And it later emerged that she feared she would lose her benefits, her house and her housing benefits if she took a low-paid job.
Then on to the radio came several lone parents who said that they had managed to combine lone-parenting with work. One of them revealingly said that her friends did not think of her as a lone parent because she had worked more or less ever since she had children.
Some people get exaggerated ideas of what they would lose in benefits if they took up work. But it is also true that the level of benefits, especially housing benefits, are so high relative to low wages, that they can make it difficult for someone to justify going out to work.
For myself, I do not wish to 'demonise' lone parents. I wish to point out that, over several decades, governments have wrongly reduced the natural incentives to marriage. Men and women both have responded to the change of incentives with the result that we have had a lone parent epidemic with consequent damage to children. The lives of the women and men concerned have also been damaged. To make it worse, we have also brought about one of the lowest rates of work among lone parents. This leads to demoralisation and a culture of complaint rather than one of achievement.
Rather belatedly I want to mention last week's speech by John Hutton, the Secretary for Work and Pensions. He flagged up the idea of requiring more lone parents to seek work in order to be entitled to welfare benefits. At present, they are not required to seek work until their youngest child reaches the age of 16. He suggested this age might be reduced to 12.
If this sounds radical, it is nothing compared to the situation in other countries. He mentioned that in Sweden, widely regarded in Britain as the place where welfare benefits are enormous and handed out without question, lone parents are expected to seek work. In America, I believe, lone parents are expected to seek when their youngest children reach the age of three months.
Britain has been amazingly lax about this with the result that we have an enormous lone parent population with millions of children disadvantaged as a result.
The fact that John Hutton is prepared to suggest this reform is a sign that common sense can break through from time to time. He must have been encouraged by the modest objections from the Left. The Guardian clearly did not like it much but did not make a great deal of it.
But the Telegraph points out that David Blunkett suggested something similar two years ago.
Let's see if Hutton goes ahead and puts this through. It would be one of the more significant welfare reforms of this government. It might also pave the way to reducing the age requirement much further.
This is part of the Guardian's coverage:
The work and pensions secretary, John Hutton, signalled his willingness to consider more stringent requirements for lone parents to look for work as part of a package of measures to encourage them back into employment and alleviate child poverty.
"Very little" is currently asked of lone parents on benefit with a requirement to look for work that begins only when the youngest child reaches the age of 16, Mr Hutton said in a speech in central London today.
Mr Hutton cited evidence which showed that when the youngest child reached 16, as many as a third of lone parents moved almost "seamlessly" on to incapacity benefit or made a further claim for income support within the following 12 months, he said.
The UK was at the bottom of the league of major European countries for lone parent employment rates, he said.
Countries such as Sweden and Denmark make "little distinction" between lone parents and other benefit recipients in terms of their obligation to look for work.
Here is some of the text of Hutton's speech with a few useful statistics:
The UK has one of the highest proportions of families headed by a lone parent in Europe. And yet despite the progress we have made in increasing the lone parent employment rate since 1997 – now up over 11 percentage points to 56.5 per cent - we still have the lowest lone parent employment rate of any major European country.
Coupled with this, we ask very little of lone parents on benefit – with a requirement to look for work that only begins when the youngest child reaches 16.
By contrast countries whose welfare systems are held up as beacons of progressive social values, such as Sweden and Denmark, make little distinction between lone parents and other benefit recipients in terms of the obligation to look for work. As a result, they have lone parent employment rates as high as 80 per cent.
Furthermore in the UK, when the youngest child reaches 16, there is evidence that as many as a third of lone parents move almost seamlessly onto Incapacity Benefit or make a further claim for income support within the following 12 months. None of this should come as a surprise. If a person has been out of the labour market for 10 or 15 years, during which time they have had little help or support, they are obviously going to find it difficult moving straight from Income Support on to JSA and being required to actively seek work. This just isn’t good enough.
We know that children of lone parents not in work are over five times more likely to be in poverty than children of lone parents in full time employment. And three times more likely to be in poverty than children of lone parents in part time work. Around 40 per cent of poor children live in lone parent households – the majority of which are non-working.
More data, again from Harry Benson (see previous entry, on how marriages tend to last much more than co-habitations.
Harry Benson's new study of family breakdown (available for download here ) is based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study of 15,000 mothers with three year old children. All of the mothers gave birth between mid 2000 and early 2002. Information was gathered in two waves – when the child was 9 months and again at 3 years. The size of the sample makes this the largest survey of family breakdown yet conducted in the UK .
The main finding of the study is that married parents were much less likely to split up compared to cohabiting parents or any other category of parent. In absolute terms, 32% of unmarried couples split up compared to 6% of married couples. Unmarried couples comprised mothers who described themselves earlier as “cohabiting” or “closely involved”. Within three years, 20% of the “cohabiting” couples had split compared to 76% of the “closely involved” couples. So compared to married couples, cohabiting couples were 3.5 times more likely to split whereas unmarried couples as a whole were 5.5 times more likely to split.
These numbers confirm that three quarters of family breakdown amongst parents with young children involves the separation of unmarried couples.
The study also sets out to establish whether income and other factors are the real culprits behind family breakdown, not whether couples are married or not, just as many politicians and commentators often assume. Regression analysis of married and cohabiting couples – that allows each factor to be analysed independently of the others – found that age, income, education, ethnic group, benefits receipt all made independent contributions to the risk of family breakdown.
For example, mothers in their 20s were twice as likely to split as mothers in their 30s, all other factors being equal. Mothers with no qualifications were 82% more likely to split compared to mothers with NVQ level 4 or equivalent,. Black mothers were twice as likely, and Pakistani mothers less likely, to split compared to white mothers. Birth order, whether the baby was the first or subsequent, did not appear to increase the odds of family breakdown.
However the headline finding was that marital status topped all of these factors in terms of importance. Cohabiting mothers were more than twice as likely to split compared to married mothers, even after all these other factors had been taken into account. There is clearly therefore a functional difference that increases the vulnerability of cohabiting couples and stability of married couples that cannot be explained by socio-economic background alone.
Of particular note is that the poorest 20% of married couples did better than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples. This finding illustrates how policy-makers, cushioned by wealth, may be misled by their relatively positive exposure to cohabitation which is wholly unrepresentative of most people's reality.
Whether the marriage/cohabitation effect is about the type of people or the type of relationship they choose is perhaps a moot point. There is evidence that both explanations have validity. The main policy outcome of this study is to show that it is no longer tenable to claim that cohabiting couples live together “as if married”.
Government policy and research must therefore distinguish family structure by marital status. How it does that, of course, is the next issue.
Reference: Benson, H. (2006) The conflation of marriage and cohabitation in government statistics – a denial of difference rendered untenable by an analysis of outcomes. Bristol Community Family Trust.
Link to this article here.
The full paper here.
Harry Benson helps couples learn to make their marriages work. He is on the Conservative group working on family breakdown. It is fascinating to hear from someone who is involved with couples regularly on the issue of what makes marriages last longer on average than co-habitations. It all comes down, he suggests, to one thing.
Last month the Guardian social affairs writer Polly Toynbee declared frostily that marriage is no social panacea. She was writing about the much-publicised interim report on family breakdown submitted to the Tories. As a member of the independent group that wrote the report, I agree. Our report makes no such claim. However her opinion that marriage and cohabitation don’t matter is not supported by the social science evidence. Cohabiting parents, rich and poor alike, are far more likely to split up and lead their families into poverty. Selection effects – social or personal background factors – do not explain this adequately.
This reluctance to accept evidence needs to be challenged. In no other area of life do overwhelming benefits and protections get so lightly dismissed. Sceptics are right to argue that family structure cannot be tested like a medicine. No experiment can randomly assign people to marry or cohabit in order to find out who does best. But there are many studies that suggest family structure matters to stability, well-being and behaviour, above and beyond selection effects.
There are also good reasons why it is thought marriage and cohabitation make people behave differently. Ultimately they can be summed up in one word. Attitude. Far from being a good testing ground for a relationship, cohabitation makes it more difficult to leave an unsuitable partner at an early stage. Inertia is one of the current explanations for the relationship quality gap. The arrival of a baby forces couples to think about their expectations of one another. Whereas stability increases amongst married parents, it reduces dramatically amongst unmarried parents. Furthermore, the longer couples cohabit, the less they value marriage and the more they tolerate divorce. So not only do couples start their marriage or cohabitation with different attitudes to their partnership, but these differences in attitudes become more entrenched over time. Behavioural differences between married and cohabiting couples reflect these attitudes, including level of communication skills, management of finances, and division of household roles.
Even if marriage matters, is Polly Toynbee right that nothing can be done in any case? No. If government policy can contribute to social trends in family structure, then it can also contribute to reversing those trends. Contribute, note, not cause. As for exactly how we suggest policy can encourage greater stability, she will have to wait until our final report next June. The only clue I will give is that there is life beyond tax breaks.
This is Harry Benson's website with lots on making marriages work.
The report is here.
The most important consideration is the well-being of the child. Does anyone really disagree with that?
If it is agreed that David Banda's interests take precedence, there can be no doubt about what is right and wrong.
In the last few days, two possible lives have stretched out before him. In one, he was going be raised in an orphanage in a poverty-stricken country. The average life expectancy for a male in Malawi is 39 years. The average income a mere US$160. AIDS/HIV is rampant and he would be signifantly at risk of dying from it. Both his siblings died of another scourge of Africa, malaria. His mother is dead.
The second possible life for him, that appeared strangely and almost miraculously, is now to be the adopted son of Madonna. I have no particular brief for Madonna. I am not a fan and what I have read of her early life does not cause me to admire her. However I do not, like some people, jump to the rather mean assumption that she wants a black baby as a fashion statement. I have known several women of her age who have longed to have more children. I think it very likely indeed that Madonna, too, has felt this longing and that consequently she will give this child love for the rest of her life.
That will be the most important thing for David Banda - to be loved by her and surely by Guy Ritchie, too. As a result of being adopted, David is likely to do better in his life in every way. Research into the outcomes for children with different kinds of parenting has - as is well known - shown that children brought up by their natural, married parents do better than most. But less well-known is the fact that children who are adopted do best of all.
Why? The research does not tell us. But we can surmise that people who adopt really, passionately want the child and devote a great deal of love and attention to him or her.
It is just a bonus, for David, that his adoptive parents are in a position to offer him myriad other benefits too. He is dramatically less likely to have his life cut short by malnutrition or disease. He will be well educated and travel the world. He will have every opportunity to realise his potential, whatever that may be.
The contrast between his prospects in an orphanage and those with Madonna is so huge that they dwarf the objections. It is said he may grow up to be upset that his father gave him up or that he was 'bought' by a pop star. He might indeed experience some difficulty, when he is older, adjusting to his unusual history. Of course, the situation is not perfect. But he will be undoubtedly far better off with some degree of emotional confusion than going without a mother at all, in poverty. Let not those who resent the wealth and fame of Madonna be motivated by that emotion into wishing a child was not give a better life.
(The above is the unedited draft of an article for today's Daily Express.)
Many thanks to Phil Taylor for directing me to this article in the Sunday Times eight days ago.
Here is an extract:
The analysis of figures in 14 European countries found that Britain has by far the highest proportion of single mothers in the European Union.
The report says that in 2001, more than 8% of British households were headed by a single mother aged 18-35, while the UK also has one of the highest rates of benefits for single mothers.
In 1994 a single mother with two children who worked for about 18 hours a week could expect more than £2,000 a year in benefits. By 2001 the figure had increased to more than £3,500.
The researchers do not say outright that high benefits accelerate family break-up. Others, however, believe the study shows that generous benefits for single motherhood provide an incentive for women to have children alone.
the former Labour minister for social security, said: “I’ve always believed in a causal link between benefits and the number of single mothers.
“We’ve got to change so that people don’t become single mothers. For some, they become single mothers by accident, while for others it’s a deliberate choice.”
The study contrasts the situation in Britain and elsewhere in northern Europe with Mediterranean countries such as Spain, where single-mother families constitute less than 1% of the total. Spanish single mothers received £137 in special benefits a year in 1994, which by 2001 had declined to £38.
Spain, along with Greece, Portugal and Italy, have the lowest numbers of single-mother families in Europe.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show single-mother families in Britain have steadily risen from 1% of all households with children in 1971 to 11% in 2004.
Libertad Gonzalez, a Barcelona academic who compiled the research, studied a sample of 6,580 single mothers from the European Community Household Panel. She estimates that for every £675 a state offers in benefits to lone parents, the incidence of single mothers goes up in that country by 2%.
After Britain, Ireland — despite its Catholic heritage — has the highest proportion of single mothers in the EU. In 2001 more than 4% of households were headed by single mothers. Irish lone mothers receive as much in benefits as their British counterparts.
Gonzalez said single mothers received more benefits in Britain and Ireland because they had “liberal” social policies where welfare payments were means-tested, which gave greater assistance to the greatest in need.
By contrast the southern European countries had benefits systems where there was an implicit understanding that family networks should provide assistance.
“The correlation across countries is quite striking,” said Gonzalez. “The countries with the highest incidence of single mothers are also the countries with more generous benefit, and vice versa . . . Spain, Greece and Portugal with small numbers of single mothers also have lower benefit levels. The UK and Ireland are both generous with benefits and have a higher incidence of these families.
See also this previous entry citing Libertad Gonzalez.
David Blunkett wrote in the Sun last week (august 30,
All too often girls come to my constituency surgery demanding a house for themselves and their baby.
This just isn't on. If the family - and often their mothers are single parents too - can't or won't look after the offspring then we will simply have to go back to the idea of hostel accomodation.
The "give us a house" mentality has to become a thing of the past and be replaced by "give us respect".
It may sound harsh, but blaming the changes in society won't wash.
So there is a former senior minister calling for hostels for unmarried mothers instead of council flats. It is a sign of the changing times. I remember once suggesting to a Daily Telegraph features editor that offering free flats to unmarried mothers had substantially increased the numbers of children born out of wedlock. Out of concern for children, we should cease to do it. Possibly we should offer hostels instead but it was essential that single parenting was an unattractive route for a girl to take (as it naturally would be if the government did not get involved). Only that way would we reduce the number of children brought up in a way that makes them more likely to be unhappy, more likely to be abused, more likely to under-achieve academically and - indeed - more likely to go wrong and suffer in every possible way.
The features editor of that Conservative Party supporting newspaper was shocked. Now a senior Labour Party figure suggests it. It is progress of a sort - but it is painfully slow.
Further on, David Blunkett refers to a survey of 13 European Union countries "this week" which "tried to link the increase in lone parents with the rise in their benefits." He adds "it is true that lone mothers here are given more financial help than all but one of the other countries surveyed".
It is no surprise if the survey suggests a link between subsidies for lone parenting and increases in the incidence of it. But it would be interesting if it was actually commissioned by the European Union. And, in any case, I would be glad if anyone knows of this survey and could direct me to it.
The Law Lords have decided two important cases. One commentator said the judgement could frame divorce law 'for a generation'.
It is absurd that something as important as a country's law on divorce should be decided by a little group of judges. They have no mandate to think of the perverse incentives their law-creation might result in. They are not required to think of the impact on society.
The law on divorce in this country should be decided, after national debate, by parliament.
Welfare benefits have previously reduced the proportion of those in the poorer quarter of society who get married. It did this by reducing the natural incentive for a woman to get married. The divorce law may now similarly reduce the proportion of those in the top ten per cent of society who get married. The men will know that in a divorce, they could lose what many of them are bound to regard as an unfairly large part of their money.
If there are few marriages, then few families will stick together and more children will be damaged. The law on divorce is too important to be left to lawyers.
The idea that a step-parent will not love a child as much as a biological parent is common to literature across the world and through history. Today I came across a short speech in "The Alcestis" by Euripides. Alcestis, I understand, has agreed to die in order to extend the life of her husband. She says to her husband,
Do not marry again and provide our children with a stepmother who will not be so kind as I, who in jealousy will raise her hand to your children and mine....For the newly arrived stepmother hates the children born to a former wife - she's deadlier than a snake.
In ancient Greek society, stepmothers may have been quite common since so many women died giving birth. In our society, stepfathers are more common since there is more divorce and separation and the natural mothers tend to be given custody of the children.
But the same influence applies. Evolution appears to have made human beings, both men and women, care far more for their natural children than for the children they get through being married or living with a new partner. This tends to result in children being less happy and psychologically damaged. For more data and analysis on this, and the welfare state's role in it, please see the chapter on parenting in The Welfare State We're In.
I am pasting here a comment which has just been contributed to a previous entry about Lone Parents 'On the fiddle'. I should concede that I cannot vouch for whether or not the contributor genuinely does work for the Department of Work and Pensions. But I have no reason to think otherwise.
I think it is an important view 'from the front' and is an antidote to the assumption of many middle class folk that benefits just go to the needy and do not influence behaviour in a damaging way.
I work for the DWP on the Lone Parent section and am confronted with lone parents quite blatently fiddling the system all the time, unfortunately because the government has cut so many jobs within the sector our fraud section only deals with a minute selection of cases. I have come across people who have had sanctions imposed on their benefits for not attending appts and then a further sanction imposed for not responding to the sanction. This in my eyes would say to me that they are either working or got someone helping them out with money as surely they would've noticed 40% of money gone if on such a tight budget? Another common thing we see quite often is that as soon as the child of a lone parent is about to turn 16 the parent gets pregnant again just so as to stay on benefit. I believe that the government should bring in something so that if a lone parent has another child while on benefit they get little or no benefits with it. I'm not trying to to sound harsh but this would save the government millions and also force parents back into work when their child reaches 16 rather than just sitting back and doing nothing while us tax payers pay them for it!
From the Institute for Fiscal Studies:
The Government thinks it is paying out tax credits or out-of-work benefits to around 200,000 more lone parents than the Office for National Statistics estimate live in the UK, according to an analysis of official statistics by researchers at the IFS.
HM Revenue & Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions together estimate that they are paying income-related support for children to 2.1 million lone parents, even though the best estimate from other evidence is that there are only 1.9 million lone parents living in the UK.
Although there are other possibilities, it is highly likely that fraud or error explain much of this disparity. After analysing
data from the latest Family Resources Survey (FRS), IFS researchers have concluded that a portion of the tax credits or out-of-work benefits which HMRC or DWP think they are paying to lone parents are probably being received by cohabiting couples with children, whether through deliberate fraud or errors made by claimants or the government. If one disregards the threat of fines or penalties, it is often financially worthwhile to pretend to be a lone parent, rather than a couple, when claiming tax credits or out-of-work benefits.
“We already know that the tax credit system is subject to fraud from people using stolen identities. The latest figures provide powerful – albeit circumstantial – evidence that the system is also subject to fraud from families not being honest about their circumstances.
The full press release (released on 12th March) is here.
An insight into the nature of the possible fraud comes from the television programme on benefit fraud commented on here.
Andrew Roberts in his Saturday Essay in the Daily Mail today:
In 1938 only 3.8 million Britons paid income tax; by 2003 this had mushroomed to 30.07 million.
In his ground-breaking book 'The Welfare State We're In', James Bartholomew points out how most wages used to fall below the income tax threshold:
"The typical working man and his wife in 1950 lived an income-tax-free existence.
"They could keep every penny they earned. This simple fact made the two-parent family eminently viable. It was just left alone."
The benefits for society of this system were inestimable. Today those with well below average earnings are caught in the tax net, and as Bartholomew shows:
"The State has even brought about a situation where, in some cases, two parents are considerable better off living apart than together."
(I might add that the two parents on average earnings, in this instance, were assumed to have two children. Children's tax allowances were very substantial. They were much more efficient than Children's Tax Credits because every couple with children got the allowances automatically. Many couples with children who would be entitled to Children's Tax Credits do not get them because they either do not know about them or else cannot face the paperwork involved.)
Twenty per cent of families in Sweden are headed by lone parents. But in Italy, the figure is only 0.5 per cent. (Britain is in the middle with 9 per cent.) These 1999 figures are quoted in Family Policy, Family Changes a valuable new book by Patricia Morgan and published by Civitas.
Teenage pregnancies in Sweden are similarly much higher than in Italy. They run at 24 per 1,000 females aged 15-19 compared to 8 in Italy. (Britain is the easy winner of this race with 45.)
Divorce is also much more common in Sweden with 47 per cent of the 1981 cohort having divorced compared to a mere 8 per cent in Italy (Britain's rate was 42 per cent).
Given the emotional suffering experienced by people as a result of lone parenting, teenage pregnancy and divorce, it is perhaps not surprising that the suicide rate in Sweden is 20.3 for men per 100,000 and 8.4 for women. These figures are far higher than in Italy, especially for women. Only 8.4 men per 100,000 men commit suicide and only 3.2 women.
But why have lone parenting, divorce and teenage pregnancies been so dramatically more widespread in Sweden than Italy? How has Italy managed to avoid the damage done to children on the whole (detailed in The Welfare State We're In) by a high incidence of lone parenting?
Patricia Morgan does not approach the subject from this angle. But she remarks that in Italy, "family allowances have been very low" and for lone parent families they amounted in 1994 to a mere 2.6 per cent of average male manufacturing earnings.
In Italy, it has been the family that has had the primary role in supporting young people and the state's help has been "almost non-existent". A Eurobarometer study asked young people aged 15-24 where they got most of their money from. In Italy, 67.5 per cent said their family, compared to an EU average of 45 per cent. (A mere 17.4 per cent in the UK.)
It would seem, in short, that Italy has not subsidised lone parenting. As a result of this, it has had very little of it - only one eighteenth of what we have in Britain.
I have only skimmed her book so far, but I have not yet found reference to the provision of council housing for lone parents in Italy. I have been told by Italians that it is not provided at all. If this is true, this would make the idea of becoming a lone parent all the more unappealing to young Italian women. It would help explain why they simply do not go in for it.
Benefits influence behaviour in a big way. I suggest that the different benefits policy on lone parenting in Italy has been the primary reason for the low incidence of lone parenting there.
It will be said that no, it is all because the country is Catholic. But I believe, though Ihave not got the figures to hand, that Ireland has a much higher incidence of lone parenting, even though it, too, is Catholic. Also it is wrong to suggest that Sweden did not previously have a strong tradition of protestant religion and a culture of marriage and 'upright' behaviour. That culture has been undermined. Cultures, even ones heavily influenced by religion, can be changed and have been changed very dramatically around the world in the past 100 years.
Italy itself appears to be in danger on this score. Patricia Morgan reports that in the late 1990s, there was a substantial increase in the level of state support for long parents. It was increased to 9.8 per cent of average male manufacturing earnings.
I would welcome input from those with knowledge of benefit policies for lone parents in Italy, Sweden, Ireland and perhaps elsewhere.
Another step forward: a six-part BBC series on benefits and how they got wrong. The first one, tonight, appears to be about benefit fraud. According the Telegraph,
David Street, the series' producer, said: "These are just a few of the cases that are prosecuted every year. The scale of fraud in disability living allowance claims is just staggering.
"I have made a lot of programmes about fraud and I have to say I was stunned by the size of this problem."
The full article is here.
The programme is on BBC1 at 8.30pm tonight and is called 'On the fiddle'.
Newspaper articles don't get much more important than the Daily Telegraph one below. It goes to the heart of how and why the character of British people has changed. You see in it incentives not to be married. Through that, you see a major cause of the increasing number of children not brought up within a family with married, committed parents. That, in turn, tends on average - though not always, of course - to lead to alienation and delinquency among more children. That is a pathway to uncivil behaviour and crime. And then there is also the incentive to fraud - making lying and cheating a normal part of the way people lead their lives.
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
Thousands of couples with children may be choosing to live apart because they can cash in on benefits.
An official report by one of the Government's former leading experts on the family shows that as many as one million couples in a committed sexual relationship live most of their time at separate addresses.
Family campaigners seized on the findings, saying women who lived apart from their child's father or a new partner were rewarded with higher levels of state benefits.
The research, contained in a politically sensitive report published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, has prompted politicians and family campaigners to question Government policy. They say changes to the tax and benefits system could encourage women to wait until they are married before having children.
The ONS report, Living arrangements in contemporary Britain, has been surrounded by controversy for some time.
Last year there were claims - strongly denied by the ONS - that the Government was suppressing a draft version because the findings could be seen as embarrassing.
Yesterday Roma Chappell, of the ONS's editorial board, said the final report drew no conclusions on why so many couples were living in such an untraditional fashion.
Asked why there were no references to the possible financial disincentives of living together in the final report, she said the earlier report was "a working paper which went to academics. It had more information in it that was speculative. The current one is not speculative. The report has been edited".
Yesterday's report found that one million couples in committed relationships chose to live apart, which amounts to three in 10 men and women under 60 - excluding teenagers living at home with their parents, and full-time students who have girlfriends or boyfriends elsewhere. It was not clear how many of the couples had children or were divorced.
The ONS said a couple might be cautious about cohabiting and prefer to have their own separate addresses. They may also be living with children from a previous marriage or living apart from their partner because he or she had moved away because of their job. Alternatively, the couple may just be starting out together and could end up marrying or cohabiting.
The ONS would not be drawn on the possible financial benefits of being a lone parent household.
The complete article is here.
In my search to update various statistics in the book, I came across the following in the Department of Education website. I very much doubt that anything the Department of Education has done or will do will have any effect on the teenage pregnancy rate. What is more likely is that the benefits, referred to below, are a key influence.
In the 1970s, Britain had similar teenage pregnancy rates to the rest of Europe. But while other countries got theirs down in the 1980s and 1990s, Britain’s rate stayed high. The latest available figures show that Britain’s teenage birth rate is five times that in Holland, three times higher than in France and double the rate in Germany. Other English-speaking countries such as Canada and New Zealand have teenage birth rates higher than ours. In the United States the rate is more than double that in the UK.
In 1999 the Government published a Teenage Pregnancy Report from its Social Exclusion Unit. It acknowledged there was no single cause, but pointed out three major factors: first, that many young people think they will end up on benefit anyway so they see no reason not to get pregnant. Second, that teenagers don’t know enough about contraception and about what becoming a parent will involve. Third, that young people are bombarded with sexual images in the media but feel they can’t talk about sex to their parents and teachers.
The Social Exclusion Unit’s report set out a Teenage Pregnancy Strategy to try and tackle the problem. The aim is to cut pregnancy rates among 15–17-year-olds in England by half between 1998 and 2010. A midway goal for 2004 was also set to get rates down by 15%.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics came out on 26 May 2005, published in Health Statistics Quarterly. They show that the pregnancy rate for under-18s in England and Wales fell to 42.3 conceptions per 1,000 girls in 2003, down from 42.8 in 2002 and about 10% lower than in 1998. But for 13–15-year-olds, the rate went up between 2002 and 2003, from 7.9 to 8.0 conceptions per thousand.
The full article should be here.
When the riots in Paris are reported, the most commonly mentioned factor is race. The implication is that this is a cause of the violence. No doubt racial conflict adds to the problem. There is also mention of people being poor.
But I suspect something different lies behind it all. The report in the Telegraph on Thursday by Henry Samuel referred several times to the places in which the riots took place:
The riots first broke out on the Chêne-Pointu council estate. Last Thursday, two adolescents from the estate died when they scaled the 8ft wall of an electricity substation to dodge police and were electrocuted.
....Chêne-Pointu typifies the problems of many of the urban ghettoes that surround Paris and other large French cities: a high immigrant population, soaring unemployment and drug dealing.
...."We're not dumb. Sarkozy has declared war on suburban youth," said Karim, 23. "Unless he apologises for the way he has treated us, then he can expect 40 nights of violence," he said.
But others around the estate back Mr Sarkozy. "What he says may be crude, but he's right. Drug runners and petty criminals have had it good too long around here.
....In the neighbouring Bosquet estate, Traore Gounedi, a 27-year-old worker in a local social centre, is incensed. "Ten years ago, Clichy was a real no-go area. But in recent years we had built up sports clubs and other associations and it had become calm...."
As night fell at Chêne-Pointu, sirens heralded the approach of two fire engines that positioned themselves in front of the estate awaiting the flames.
Notice the appearances of the word
'estate' in these excerpts. To what extent could the violence be due to alienation and criminalisation in council estates with high proportions of unemployed and never-married lone parents? In other words, not really race or being poor.
It is impossible to be precise, of course. But it is interesting to note the way council estates seem to be the hubs of the riots. Of course, many will take the word 'estate' to be merely an indication of 'social deprivation' and conclude that the people in these estates need to be given more. But there are poor people all over the world, yet the riots are taking place in a rich country where people are living on state-provided property and many are living on state-provided hand-outs.
Meanwhile we also know, as background, that many council estates have become crime-ridden in both France and Britain. We also know that the unemployed and children of unmarried mothers are more likely to turn to crime. There is also plenty of evidence that unemployment and unmarried, lone parenting is encouraged by welfare benefits (see The Welfare State We're In. The unemployed and the never married tend to be concentrated in council estates which, in their turn and of themselves, appear to have an alienating effect on those who live in them.
From this it does seem possible, to put it modestly, that the root cause of the violence in these Paris council estates, lies in welfare benefits and state-provided housing in damaging combination. In short, the cause of the riots could be the French welfare state.
Despite the best efforts of the Government to push mothers into buying in childcare from outside the family, nearly half of working mothers depend on grandparents for childcare, according to a report by Shirley Dex at London University's Institute of Education. Only 37 per cent paid for childminders or nurseries.
Of course child carers can be very good. But in resisting the inducements offered by the government, mothers show a great deal of sense. There is continuity with a grandparent that the child is less likely to enjoy with professional child carers.
There is a report on this in the Daily Mail today but unfortunately I cannot locate it on the Daily Mail website. If anyone can help trace the Daily Mail coverage or any other coverage, I would be grateful.
The most worrying words for the public to hear are "I am from the government and I am here to help you." This is not very far from what Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, has been quoted as saying: "We need to do more to help hard-working mothers and fathers balance their work and family commitments so that they can give their children the best possible start in life".
How does Mr Johnson propose to enable parents to give children 'the best possible start in life'? By giving fathers the right to six months paternity leave - unpaid except for two weeks.
We will come to whether or not this will actually make any difference to children later. First let's first mention what ministers never quite get round to describing:
One of the them will be obvious to anyone faced with this supposedly generous offer. The father, if he takes his leave, will lose five and half months pay. That is a major financial shortfall for the family. It will probably affect his pension, too. It will reduce his lifetime earnings. It makes the whole idea of paternity leave into a luxury for the rich that will be useless for most people. It is odd. One day the government is warning us that we should work until we are older because otherwise we will never pay for our pensions. The next day it is encouraging us to take half a year off.
The second burden will be carried by companies. Look at it from their point of view. They are being told, "You must let your men leave your company for up to six months whenever their wives give birth. You will probably have to get someone to replace them. And then, if it suits them, the men will have the absolute right to come back to their old jobs." That makes life very difficult. It means recruiting and training up new people and then suddenly dispensing with them. It means living with uncertainty. People usually say it would be difficult 'for small businesses' but it could be a real nuisance to larger ones too.
The sudden absence of personnel could interfere with good public services too. Imagine that the surgeon who is due to operate on your heart decides to take six months off because baby has arrived. The NHS is short of heart surgeons and cannot conjure up extra ones out of nowhere.
But before teasing out all the problems that could be caused, is this law really necessary in the first place?
We don't need to speculate. We can read the book. Other countries, especially in Scandinavia, have already tried this sort of thing.
Just as here in Britain, Sweden established maternity leave. But then, as here, it was thought that this was 'discriminatory' and 'sexist' and that men should take a bigger part in raising children. So a law providing for paternity leave was created to enable and encourage men to share bringing up baby. The trouble was, even in strongly egalitarian Sweden, hardly any men used it. The take-up rate remained under five per cent compared to virtually 100 per cent of maternity leave take up by mothers.
Did this set-back deter the amateur social-engineers who call themselves politicians? Not at all. The Swedish government proceeded to make one month's paternity leave almost compulsory. If men did not want to change nappies, they would be virtually forced to get out the Pampers and get wiping. But that did not work either. The men have generally used the leave for leisure activities, to go fishing or take courses. Recently a Swedish government official visited London and admitted that paternity leave days were being added to August and Christmas holidays. They were making no difference whatever to patterns of childcare. So much for Alan Johnson's vain idea that he is going to give children 'the best possible start in life' by his measures.
Catherine Hakim, a senior fellow at the London School of Economics, who has studied these matters refers to "the remarkable failure of Swedish policy on paternity leave". That is the kind of failure which the government now wishes to immitate.
It largely comes down to human nature. The way we are brought up makes a big difference to our behaviour. But there is increasing evidence that there are underlying psychological differences between men and women. Men appear generally to be more aggressive, for example. They commit 80 per cent of murders across all sorts of different societies.
In a similar way, it is probably the case that men are fundamentally much less likely than women to be interested in looking after babies for long periods of time. In which case, no amount of politically correct legislation is going to make any difference.
There is no strait-jacket here. Men do vary in their interest in babies, as do women. But the majority of men - perhaps 60 per cent, according to Catherine Hakim - are 'work-centred'. Some women are also work-centred but they are a minority - 20 per cent. The majority of women - 60 per cent - are what she calls 'adaptive', meaning they want some combination of work and family.
Ironically women are the ones who are most against men giving up work and sharing equally in child care. There is plenty of evidence that they generally want their men employed, not at home. The unhappiest marriages with the most discontented women, tend to be ones where the man is not working.
By all means if Mr Johnson can change the nature of men and women he should get on with his new law. If he can't he should stop meddling.
(This is the unedited version of an article which appeared in the Daily Express today.)
I went up to the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool on Thursday on Tuesday to speak in a a fringe event organised by the Freedom Association.
During this short visit, one unexpected subject came up three times. I was alongside the MP Ann Widdecombe trying to sell copies of my book while she, rather more successfully, was trying to sell copies of her novels. She told me about her novels and said the latest one was about a man who was suddenly left by his wife and, in addition to the normal misery of such a situation, suffered at the hands of the Child Support Agency - the government agency which requires men to support children when the man is no longer with the mother.
Not long after, a man who was buying a copy of my book mentioned that he had asked an MP what were the subjects that were raised most often at his 'surgeries' for his constituents.
One of the four subjects was the Child Support Agency.
Then, on the way from an evening fringe meeting to my hotel, the taxi-driver - in between telling me very sad lowlights of his life - said that he had had several men in his cab 'crying their eyes out' over the way they had been treated by the Child Support Agency.
I mentioned all this at breakfast this morning with some of the organisers of the Freedom Association. Two of them confirmed from their personal knowledge of MP surgeries, that the Child Support Agency is indeed a major issue. The unhappiness is both that of men who feel they are being unfairly hounded and/or that the calculations are all wrong (and it takes ages to get them right) and also that of women who feel they are not getting as much money as they should.
This is not an area which I have studied. One might think that almost any organisation that has responsibility in such a fraught area is bound to be unpopular. But the level of unhappiness with this organisation seemed to go beyond what one would expect on that basis alone. Of course the CSA has had well-documented difficulties and delays. I guess they must have been truy awful and have affected people badly at the worst possible time in their lives.
From the Office for National Statistics yesterday:
Between 1996 and 2004, the number of cohabiting couple families increased by over 50 per cent to 2.2 million, while the number of lone-mother families increased by 12 per cent to 2.3 million.
The Office for National Statistics gave this and other information the headline, "Married couple families still the majority". It was as if the Office was trying to follow a government line of "Don't panic!", emphasising that most people do still marry. This is all spin. The news is obviously that a larger and larger proportion do not marry. A rise of a half in the number of cohabiting couples in only five years is a massive and very rapid change. The governemtn is presiding over the major reduction in the incidence of marriage which all the evidence (see The Welfare State We're In) suggests will inevitably have damaging effects on children and ultimately, through the least fortunate of these children, on the levels of crime and incivility. A further social decline in Britain with yet higher levels of criminality seems very likely.
The Government spends a huge amount of our money on social research. This research is one of the main sources of data for independent analysis, too. But the Government deliberately avoids researching things when it might discover things that are inconvenient. It does not analyse convicted criminals to find out their family backgrounds - particularly whether or not their parents were married and stayed together throughout their childhood. In America, 32 per cent of all adult criminals were found to have lost one parent before the age of fifteen. At the time, only eight per cent of the population at large had a lost a parent in this way. And in Britain? We don't know. The Government does not want to know. It might interfere with the politically correct pretence that all kinds of parenting are just as good.
Here is an excellent excerpt from an email newsletter by Harry Benson on another way in which the Government is avoiding the truth. He ends with a call for people to join in fighting this "see no truth" attitude to social research. The more who respond to his call, the better:
At the end of June, the government released its latest findings from the Families and Children Study (FACS). FACS is a superbly designed panel study that has followed the progress of several thousand families for five years.
The latest study found that lone parent families were more likely to work less, earn less, save less, be unemployed, be deprived, be on benefits and suffer poorer health than couple families. The finding does not tell us much that is new but adds to a large body of existing research.
What is especially striking is the way the study completely disregards marriage. For the second year running, FACS combines four different family types into one super group called “couple families”. Yet there is a great deal of existing research showing that these four types – married and unmarried families, as well as married and unmarried stepfamilies – do not have the same outcomes.
Two years ago, for example, an earlier FACS study of the same families showed that married couples, regardless of other factors, were at significantly lower risk of family breakdown compared to unmarried couples.
Why have the researchers done this? It smacks of censorship. FACS is commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). DWP will have set out the aims of the study. The researchers then carry out the instructions of their paymasters.
In late 2003, without debate, the government quietly decided to abolish the term “marital status”. This was announced on page 41 of an obscure government paper responding to a consultation on civil partnerships. Since then, mention of marriage has been systematically eliminated from the government lexicon. When Labour abolished the marriage allowance, tax and benefit systems ceased to distinguish between married and unmarried couples. The FACS study is a perfect example of the new political correctness in action.
The policy argument against distinguishing marriage from cohabitation is to avoid stigmatising children. If only. The unintended consequence of this destructive political correctness is that more couples don’t bother marrying. And why should they when the government’s actions indicate that marriage is not important?
The result is a rise in family breakdown driven not by divorce but entirely by the trend away from marriage and associated collapse of unmarried families. Instead of avoiding the stigma of unmarried parents, huge numbers of children now experience the far worse tragedy of family breakdown.
Government censorship now prevents researchers from highlighting the benefits and protections that accrue to married couples and their children. George Orwell was 20 years ahead of his time.
Please join me in writing to the new Work and Pensions Minister Stephen Timms MP (House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA) to request that he distinguish between married and unmarried families in future commissions of the Families and Children Study.
Harry Benson's Bristol Community Family Trust website is here. For anyone interested in marriage and parenting issues it is well worthwhile visiting and registering to receive his emails.
I attended a talk by Professor Larry Mead at the Institute of Economic Affairs the night before last. He gave his talk in a scholarly, methodical way - quite different from the more openly partisan talk given by Ron Haskins last week. But the message was mostly the same. The big fact is that welfare rolls fell by 60 per cent in America following the 1996 reform package. It was an awesome result. Of course, people like Professor Mead knew very well that such a thing would be attacked as cruel and bad. But one of the impressive things about the American Right is that it arms itself with plenty of facts to counter such assertions:
He gave Federal Poverty Rates for whites, blacks and Hispanics in 1994, 2000 and 2003 respectively:
Whites: 14.5%, 11.3% and 12.5%
Blacks: 30.6% 22.5% and 24.4%
Hispanics: 30.7%, 21.5% and 22.5%
He ascribes the recent uptick in poverty rates to the reduction in US growth since 2000. Even allowing for this, it is very clear that there has been a major reduction in poverty among those who are most prone to it.
Incidentally, the official American government's definition of poverty is very different from that in Britain. In Britain, 'poverty' is defined as people who are much poorer than average. In America, the government defined poverty in 1964 as a particular level of income. That level of income is adjusted each year for inflation. This provides, in my view, a far more useful definition. Under this measure, so-called poverty does not rise because the top one percent gets richer. That is what happens under the British system (see postscript in The Welfare State We're In , "Why do people talk more about 'poverty' now there is less of it?"
What is the difference between Larry Mead and Charles Murray, author of the seminal work, Losing Ground? Professor Mead said that Charles Murray believed that people responded to incentives whereas he thought people did not always make proper calculations about where their advantages lay. He thought people, especially the least able 5%, wanted to be told what to do. That was what the welfare reform programme had done. It had declared, "We expect you to work. If you want the right to benefits, we expect you to work, even if you are a lone parent and even if you have a disability." (These are not his words but my interpretation.)
However in my view, the same measures could also be seen as a rearrangement of incentives. Only getting benefits if you work looks like a pretty strong incentive to get moving.
Unless I misheard him, Larry Mead said he was staying with David Willetts. An interesting connection. David Willetts has also told me in the past that he knows Charles Murray personally. David Willetts is certainly well versed in welfare reform. But his public pronouncements have fallen well short of the radical reforms that took place in America and was generally endorsed by both these men. Will the Conservative Party ever stand up for radical welfare benefits reform?
One of Larry Mead's book that I must get is Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin. It available from Amazon here or you could try Abebooks.com or click onto any of the Amazon links in the left hand column and then search for 'Welfare Reform in Wisconsin'.
For some time now I have been confident that the number of children being home-schooled has been rising fast.
Now comes confirmation from an article in the Sunday Times. What the article does not analyse is the cause of the trend. I would suggest that it is partly
1. dissatisfaction of middle class parents with the quality of education their children can get particularly, but not only, at state state schools.
2. Inability readily to pay for private education (which, arguably, is much more expensive than it should be, for a variety of reasons including state rules on planning, health and safety and so on).
3. Desire of parents to save their children from the violence and influences towards crime, drugs and teenage parenting in some of the more 'bog-standard' inner city comprehensives.
Here is the Sunday Times article:
Number of children taught at home soars Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor THE number of children taught at home has almost doubled in the past five years, a trend that experts say reflects a crisis of confidence in the state school system. Government figures show the number of five to 16-year-olds educated at home jumped from 12,000 in 1999 to 21,000 last year.
The increasing number of parents opting out of the school system reflects a similar trend in the United States, where one in 20 children is now taught at home.
Though children have to be educated, there is no legal requirement in Britain for them to attend school. The progress of children at home may be monitored at intervals by the local education authority.
Home teaching groups claim the number taught at home could soar to 150,000 by 2015, equivalent to one child in 30.
Mike Fortune-Wood, of Home Education UK, a website that provides advice on home schooling, said there was a “quiet revolution” going on. “People find that at home they can provide their children with an education far better suited to their individual needs,” he said.
Janey Lee Grace, a Radio 2 presenter and mother of three, teaches her two older sons, aged five and six, at her Hertfordshire home. She relies on a network of like-minded parents, informal tutoring groups and an organisation called Naturekids, which stresses the link between learning and nutrition.
“I think the school system fails most kids,” she said. “It’s fine if you want to be in the army, but not for most people who are more individual.
“I know a home-taught 11-year-old who is taking her maths GCSE. She will take the rest of her GCSEs at the normal age, but because she is good at maths she is going at her own faster speed.”
In the next academic year parents teaching at home will have the further support of the country’s first internet secondary school. The £165-a-month online school is being pioneered by Paul Daniell, 42, a senior physics teacher in south Wales.
It will use the internet and conference-call technology to offer GCSEs in seven core subjects. Teachers will give morning classes online to small groups and set them work for the afternoon under parental supervision.
To date, more than 40 children have been signed up to the “Inter High School”, which has three teachers. Numbers are expected to grow, with interest from families abroad and even teachers in conventional schools who wish to use the lessons.
Ron Haskins, a senior adviser to President Bush on welfare reform, addressed the Centre for Policy Studies yesterday. It was an exceptionally good presentation - powerful about the way in which the 1996 welfare reform programme has succeeded and honest about admitting ways in which it has disappointed.
He brought home that the welfare reform was not, as it is usually described in Britain, a genuinely bi-partisan affair. It was, above all, a Republican reform that was fought bitterly by most Democrats (with one particularly notable exception). Based on the American experience, we should not get hung up on the idea that only the Left can reform welfare on the same basis that 'only Nixon could make peace with Commmunist China'. In America, passionate Republicans aimed to save their country though welfare reform and they have, to a remarkable degree, succeeded.
The notable exception on the Democrat side was,
believe it or not, Bill Clinton. Ron Haskins was assertively conservative and Republican. But, on the matter of welfare reform, he was full of praise for Clinton. He had met Clinton before he became president and even then had been impressed by his detailed knowledge of the welfare system. There was only one other governor who knew as much or more. Clinton was also emphatic, regardless of his own sexual history, that people should leave college, get a job, get married and have children in that order.
Most other democrats fought reform bitterly. That Democrat attitude still has not gone. Haskins now works at the Brookings Institution which clearly has a full representation, to put it gently, of Democrats. One day Haskins found, just in time, that one of the images he was going to use for a presentation had been doctored. It was a poster with Bush and Cheney. On it had been put super-imposed message, "We hate poor people".
He said that even Clinton vetoed the reform package twice. Support from Democrats in the House amounted to a mere 17 votes. Then Clinton, at the last moment, decided not to veto the package on the third occasion. Only at this very late stage did the vote among the Democrats increase to about 100.
The achievements of the package so far?
- a 60 per cent reduction in those on welfare rolls
- a massive saving in taxation
- a major reduction 'poverty' as officially measured among lone mothers.
- the rate of unmarried parenting has stopped rising but has not fallen
- black men are no more likely to have a job than previously
- there is little support in the figures for the idea that people can start on a low income job and hope to rise and rise from there.
I suggested, in the question and answer session, that getting people to marry more could be like trying to turn around an oil tanker - it takes time. People who are thinking of having sex, will not pause and say "Oh no, wait a minute. The benefit system has changed. Perhaps I won't after all."
It takes a big cultural shift. That takes place by such things as a younger sister seeing that her older sister is not having such a good life as a lone parent. She is having to drop off her children in the early hours at school or with childminders, then she is rushing to work, then going back to pick up the children and put them to bed. Not great fun. Over time, the younger sister might come to decide - or be advised - that maybe it would be better have children in the context of marriage.
Others in the room were concernd that a large amount of money was being spent on unmarried mothers in the form of child care subsidies that they would not get (?) if they were married. So lone parenting was, perhaps, still being unintentionally encouraged by the state.
Following back a 'site reference' to this website, I came across the following by someone signing him or herself 'darkhorse' on Guardian Unlimited 'The Talk'.
I notice that Bartholomew unquestioningly parrots the comments of Haskins.
It doesn't occur to him that changes in the statistics relating to single parent families and unmarried parents in the US over the 90s are almost certainly down to the fact that the US experienced a recession in the early 90s, followed by the usual economic growth cycle after a recession and the dotcom boom from 96-2000.
Instead, like a starry-eyed evangelist (or propagandist, more likely) he is, he unquestioningly accepts the spurious attribution of this improvement in income to a range of welfare reforms implemented in 96. It's as if he believes nothing else happened in the US in this period except these blessed reforms.
It so happens that Ron Haskins dealt specifically with this line of political counter-attack. Unfortunately I don't have a transcript of his remarks so I cannot authoritatively give chapter and verse. But he showed a chart which, from memory, was of the number of people on welfare benefits over several decades. This showed that periods of strong economic growth in the past have indeed had some effect. But the impact was alway relatively small and quite trivial compared to what has happened since 1996.
Below is what has been achieved in America. It could have been done here. But instead of radical reform in welfare, Gordon Brown increased means-testing. There has been some reduction in the value of welfare benefits and some increased incentives to work and even some increased conditionality of benefits. But it has been minor and at the edges.
If Blair had done what Clinton (pushed on by the Republicans) had done in the USA, then we might have had this:
What was the result of the 1996 reforms? By 2003, American welfare case loads had declined by about 60 per cent nationally. The number of families receiving cash welfare is now the lowest it has been since 1971. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of single mothers in employment grew from 58 per cent to nearly 75 per cent. The sub-group of never-married mothers working grew from 44 per cent to 66 per cent.
Before 1996, never-married mothers were (as in Britain) the most likely to drop out of school, go on welfare, and have long spells on benefits. Yet their employment grew by almost 50 per cent. As with the case-load decline, these changes in employment by low-income single mothers - especially never-married mothers - are without precedent.
The pattern of income for the poorest mother-headed families has shifted dramatically. Earnings have risen by 130 per cent to constitute almost 55 per cent of income, while welfare income fell to about 20 per cent. Rising earnings accompanied by falling welfare is the precise goal of welfare reform.
The bottom line is that female-headed families with children are financially better off. Child poverty fell every year between 1993 and 2000, and among black children reached its lowest level ever. The percentage of families in "deep poverty", defined as half the poverty level, has also declined substantially.
Trends in non-marital births and the composition of American families are less startling, but give grounds for optimism. Our teen birth rate has been declining since the early 1990s and by 2002 reached its lowest ever. And after decades of increases, the non-marital birth rate for women of all ages has roughly stabilised since 1994; among black households, it has actually declined.
The percentage of children living with single mothers has also declined, while the percentage of children living with two adults has increased. Child-support collections have nearly doubled since 1995, and paternity establishment has increased substantially.
So, for the first time since the 1960s, and in contrast to Britain, most of the measures of family structure are either stabilised or moving in the right direction. Given the strong research evidence on the benefit for both children and adults of living in married families, this should have broad impacts, including better school readiness, higher rates of school completion, less delinquency, lower rates of mental health problems, less poverty and further declines in welfare use.
The above is from an article by Ron Haskins in the Telegraph today.
It is clear that the one area that has not shown so much improvement is that of the incidence of marriage. But perhaps that is like turning a tanker around - it takes time. The immediate decision of individuals about whether to marry or not is largely cultural and only partly financial. I believe that over time, the change in the financial effects of marriage or non-marriage will change the culture. But that is probably a long term process.
The objections to a ten hour school day, as proposed by the current education secretary, Ruth Kelly, are:
1. It will estrange children even more from their parents, leading to more children who feel unloved and become aggressive and ultimately delinquent.
2. The care will be cheap and bad.
3. Insofar as the state pays for this, families who actually look after their children will be taxed to finance childcare for families who don't have time to look after their children. This is undesirable and unfair.
4. Insofar as the state will not pay for this, it is something which schools could do now if they were so minded. (And if it is to become compulsory, then the state will end up paying, which takes us back to 3.)
Here is the Telegraph's coverage of the story.
The family dissolution rate is different from the divorce rate. Because so many Scandinavians now rear children outside of marriage, divorce rates are unreliable measures of family weakness. Instead, we need to know the rate at which parents (married or not) split up. Precise statistics on family dissolution are unfortunately rare. Yet the studies that have been done show that throughout Scandinavia (and the West) cohabiting couples with children break up at two to three times the rate of married parents. So rising rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth stand as proxy for rising rates of family dissolution.
By that measure, Scandinavian family dissolution has only been worsening.
Between 1990 and 2000, Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate rose from 39 to 50 percent, while Sweden's rose from 47 to 55 percent. In Denmark out-of-wedlock births stayed level during the nineties (beginning at 46 percent and ending at 45 percent). But the leveling off seems to be a function of a slight increase in fertility among older couples, who marry only after multiple births (if they don't break up first). That shift masks the 25 percent increase during the nineties in cohabitation and unmarried parenthood among Danish couples (many of them young). About 60 percent of first born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents. The rise of fragile families based on cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing means that during the nineties, the total rate of family dissolution in Scandinavia significantly increased.
Scandinavia's out-of-wedlock birthrates may have risen more rapidly in the seventies, when marriage began its slide. But the push of that rate past the 50 percent mark during the nineties was in many ways more disturbing. Growth in the out-of-wedlock birthrate is limited by the tendency of parents to marry after a couple of births, and also by the persistence of relatively conservative and religious districts. So as out-of-wedlock childbearing pushes beyond 50 percent, it is reaching the toughest areas of cultural resistance. The most important trend of the post-gay marriage decade may be the erosion of the tendency to marry at the birth of a second child. Once even that marker disappears, the path to the complete disappearance of marriage is open.
And now that married parenthood has become a minority phenomenon, it has lost the critical mass required to have socially normative force. As Danish sociologists Wehner, Kambskard, and Abrahamson describe it, in the wake of the changes of the nineties, "Marriage is no longer a precondition for settling a family--neither legally nor normatively. . . . What defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood."
Beverley Hughes, the children and families minister, told the Guardian last week that there is nothing more the Government can do to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. Her message was "Nothing to do with us. The government offers lots of sex education in schools, but those teenagers keep on having babies. Now it is up to the parents."
She was echoing Tony Blair who, as he bemoaned the lack of respect in British society, said he could not bring up other people's children for them.
So is it really nothing to do with them? Is there nothing they can do about?
Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe at 42.8 conceptions a year for every 1,000 girls under 18. Our teenagers have five times as many babies as Dutch girls, three times as many as the French and twice as many as German frauleins. It seems unlikely that this has nothing to do with the government. There is not something particular about British girls that means they have babies more frequently than girls elsewhere.
Britain is second only to Sweden in Europe in the proportion of women aged 18 to 35 who are lone mothers. Lone mothers are more than four times more common here than in Italy, Portugal, Greece or Spain? It is unlikely that this, too, is nothing to do with government policy.
The very high numbers of teenage pregnancies and lone parent families in Britain have everything to do with the framework created by this government and its predecessors. Britain has not always been a world capital of teenage pregnancy and lone parenting. The rate of lone parenting in Britain was tiny after the second world war and it was only after welfare benefits were increased persistently - particularly for lone parents - that the rate increased. This, in turn, made it more acceptable for teenage girls to let themselves get pregnant without worrying too much if they were married first.
The contrasts between Europe countries are dramatic and revealing. Four countries offer little or no welfare benefits to lone mothers. Those same four countries - Italy, France, Greece and Portugal - are the same ones which have only a tiny percentage of lone mothers. It is true that three of these countries are Catholic. But that is not the deciding factor. Ireland is Catholic yet still has one of the highest rates of lone parenting in Europe. The difference is that Ireland offers relatively substantial welfare benefits to lone parents. Britain and Ireland were found to be the two with the highest benefits for lone parents in a survey of 14 European countries. They were also the countries with the highest proportions of lone mothers.
On this evidence, it seems that welfare benefits have a major impact on the rate of lone parenting. So governments cannot just wash their hands of it. They can and should act.
It is simply not true that there is nothing they can do about it. In 1996, Bill Clinton, in combination with the Republican majority in Congress, made major welfare benefit reforms designed to make benefits-assisted parenting a 'waystation' instead of a 'way of life'. The American government decided not to pay benefits to people for more than five years of their lives. All those on benefits, including women with young children, were required - yes, 'required', not 'encouraged' as in Britain - to seek work.
As a result, fewer young women with children in America are now defined as being 'in poverty'. More of them are working and the upward trend in lone parenting has, for the first time in decades, been arrested and is now beginning to turn down. Teenage parenting has been reduced. Meanwhile in Britain where the rate of births outside marriage was higher in the first place, it is still rising. In reality, the British government knows about this. It knows that governments can make a difference. But what it lack is the guts and the moral determination to do something similar to the USA.
The American government has since gone further and supported the teaching of sexual abstinence in schools. This has helped cause a drop in the pregnancy rate among 10 to 14 year-olds to the lowest rate for 60 years. Here in Britain, in contrast, 'sex education' tends to mean teaching children how to have sex and, implicitly, that it is a perfectly sensible thing for unmarried children to do.
Does all this matter? It is true that it is possible for lone parents and even a teenage lone parents to bring up children well. But it is far more difficult. All the evidence is that lone parenting results, on average, in children who are disadvantaged emotionally and educationally. They are more likely to be poor, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to become delinquents. If Mr Blair really wants a culture of respect, he will have to do something to discourage lone parenting - and thus the rate of teenage pregnancy. He will have to do something very different from the usual. Talking tough and blaming other people won't cut it.
(This research, by Assistant Professor Libertad Gonzalez in Barcelona, is the basis for the assertions made here about benefit levels for lone parent families and the incidence of such families. Please note that when she refers to single parent families she is referring to what, in Britain, we would call 'lone' parent families. The distinction, which I hope I am right in drawing, is that a single parent in British usage is someone who has never been married. A lone parent, which is what Ms Gonzalez is referring to, is a parent who may or may not have been married before but who is now living without a man present. There are all sorts of statistics flying about on the subject of teenage pregnancy, lone parenting, single parenting and so on. The definitions used can make a big difference. I also understand, having spoken to Ms Gonzalez, that her figures for benefits received do not include the value of subsidised housing such as council housing. In Britain, of course, that is one of the biggest parts of the benefits received by many lone parents.)
Messrs Blair and Brown just don't get it. They think good social policy revolves around a bad definition of 'poverty'. They are puzzled by the 'hoodies'.
This from a good article by Fraser Nelson in the Scotsman:
For all the hype about the New Deal, Brown’s economy has specialised in finding alternatives to work for young people. When Labour came to power, 23% of 18-24 years olds were not working: this has risen to now 25%.
And benefit dependency has risen from 6.01m when Labour came to power to 6.58m now. Family disintegration has continued apace: the proportion of births to lone parents is up from 21% in 1996 to 26% today.
Yet in Brown’s eyes, this doesn’t matter: more subsidy is going to the poorest, ergo "inequality" is statistically reduced, ergo things must be okay. Labour is blinded to the second part of Clinton’s equation: poverty is a social phenomenon. Family matters.
This is not moralistic. Research shows a child raised by a lone parent is seven times as likely to fall into poverty, four times as likely to be expelled from school, three times as likely to become dependant on welfare and twice as likely to go to prison.
These dynamics do not hold for upper income groups, where a single parent usually has the resources (and family support) to give a child a loving, stable background. It is among the poorest families that marriage makes the most difference.
A lot of women now work incredibly hard. The interesting question is whether this has something to do with policy changes made by governments.
Forget all the talk about a 48-hour working week: most mothers in Britain put in at least 100 hours and form the "hardest-working profession in Europe", according to a report today.
Business leaders may scoff at the idea that doing the laundry, the school run and vacuuming constitutes "work", but most mothers would disagree, pointing out that such labour is often physical, relentless, goes unnoticed and is certainly unpaid. Many also combine it with part-time paid work.
Research among 1,035 mothers found that for nearly 40 per cent of them, the day did not end until 9pm on a regular basis, and a third slept fewer than six hours a night.
For those in London, seven hours a week was devoted to the school run alone.
The research comes as a book on the stresses of motherhood, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, says women are living lives of silent desperation, trying to be supermums by looking after the children, keeping the home spotless and securing places for their children at the right school.
Here is one possible contributor to the phenomenon of the phenomenally hard-working mother: the tax system now favours two people in a couple working rather than one.
It used to be the other way round. It used to be that a married woman with children working part-time (which is very widespread now) would be taxed at the top rate of income tax incurred by her husband. In those days when the top rate of income tax was 83 per cent, that meant it was pretty much a waste of effort for the wife of a wealthy man to take a job. It was also not very remunerative for those with husbands on any above-average income.
Then Nigel Lawson introduced separate taxation. This was supposed to provide equality of treatment for women. But did it in fact contribute to the way that women now work incredibly hard?
He gave each member of a married couple a separate personal tax allowance and in each case, the rate of tax would rise first to the standard rate and only later to the top rate. So if, say, a husband and wife both earned £30,000, their combined income of £60,000 would mostly be taxed at the standard rate and over £9,000 of it would not be taxed at all. Whereas, currently, if all of it were earned by the husband, half of it would be taxed at the top rate and the tax free personal allowance would only be about £4,500 (or whatever the personal alowance has now reached).
Whereas before, for given combined family income, the tax advantage lay with only one of the two going out to work. Now the tax advantage lies with both of them having a job.
It might be better, perhaps, to go for something which - from memory - David Willetts suggested some years ago: a transferable personal allowance. A woman (or man) would be able to say to the inland revenue, 'I prefer to stay at home to look after the children and the home. I hereby transfer my personal allowance to my husband (or wife)'.
That would not entirely remove the tax disadvantage suffered by one-earner couples, but it would reduce it. In the process, it would allow many women the opportunity - but certainly not any compulsion - to stay at home looking after children and home if that is what they would prefer.
(The research that revealed the 100-hour working week of most mothers was commissioned by Comfort, manufacturers of fabric conditioner, but unfortunately the Daily Telegraph article on this does not say which organisation carried out the research.)
The number of babies born out of wedlock has reached its highest recorded level, according to official figures published yesterday....
A total of 42.2 per cent of births took place outside wedlock last year, up from 41.4 per cent in 2003 and an increase of nearly 10 per cent since 1994 when the figure stood at 32.4 per cent.
What is remarkable about this news item in the Daily Telegraph yesterday is that it was a small down-page story with no comment or even quoting anyone being disturbed by it. Yet it, to those who have looked at the effect of unmarried parenting on the children, the most worrying item of news in the paper.
A good, to-the-point posting on the Civitas blog about Tony Blair bemoaning the lack of respect in modern society.
The NHS is the world's third-largest employer with a million people on its books, second only to the Chinese Army and Indian railways. We spend some £80 billion a year on the NHS, equating to £1,400 annually for every man, woman and child. Despite this the number of NHS beds in England has halved in the past 25 years.
The average British woman will have 2.2 healthy pregnancies in her lifetime - almost enough to keep the UK population stable - but will give birth to only 1.7 children. The difference is accounted for by the number of abortions.
The number of people working in the public sector has increased by 10 per cent since 1998, accounting for some half a million of the new jobs created since Labour came to power.
Total public sector employment in 5.29 million, up from 4.71 million in 1997.
In 1981, 600,000 people claimed incapacity benefit. Now it is 2.2 million.
The greatest increases in recorded crime since 1997 have been in drug offences (509 per cent) and violence against the person (281 per cent) and there has been a drop in burglaries by nearly a fifth.
More than half the households in Britain have less than £1,500 in savings, and a quarter have no savings at all.
Teenage birth rates in Britain are twice as high as in Germany, and five times as high as in Holland.
150,000 children are educated at home, and the figure is rising. Bullying, harrassment and religion are the reasons most cited by parents for taking their children out of school.
From Britain in Numbers published by Politico's and serialised in today's Daily Mail.
My two daughters were discussing divorce and separation among the parents of the children they know at their school. I asked them how many children at school could they think of whose parents were divorced. After consideration, they came up with four. That is probably out of about 25 children who my older daughter knows well in year six, say another 10 in year five, perhaps another 30 in year three (where my younger daughter is) and another 20 in other years. So a total of about 85. It is, of course, possible that there are some divorced parents they did not know about. But it seems probably that not much more than five per cent of the children have divorced or separated parents.
What has this got to do with the welfare state?
One of the claims I make in The Welfare State We're In is that the welfare state has reduced the natural incentives for married couples to stay together.
I attempt to substantiate this by citing figures suggesting that divorce and separation is far more common among the poor - the ones most affection by welfare benefits - than among the rich - who are not entitled to most benefits and therefore are not influenced by them.
One of the difficulties I encountered was that the research tended to be pretty old. This is one of several things that the government does not measure because, one suspects, it does not want to know the answer.
The low divorce rate among the relatively rich parents at my daughters' private school does not constitute heavyweight, serious evidence such as I would quote in a book. But it is nonetheless supportive, anecdotal evidence that the rich don't divorce as much as the poor. The poor are the ones whose judgements have been interfered with by the welfare state. Their children are the ones who suffer most from 'broken parenting'.
The Conservatives have 'matched' the Labour promises on financial support and leave for new parents. They have added some elements of choice but essentially the Conservatives are accepting the Labour idea that the government should dish out other people's cash and impose extra obligations on employers when a couple have a baby. In their desperate attempts to morph a Labour plan which would subsidise care by people outside a family but not care from inside the family, the Conservatives have come up with the idea that grandparents should be able to take a course in caring for children so that they could then qualify for subsidy too. The idea of the government - which has shown itself incapable even of teaching children in its care how to read - telling grandparents how to look after children is grotesque.
The Conservatives have also implicitly accepted tax credits. But tax credits are an appallingly bad way of delivering benefits. A large minority - often those most in most need - do not go through the difficulties of applying and so do not get them.
The Conservatives should not have accepted these flawed, complex, anti-employment, high-tax, bureaucracy-heavy ideas.
The BBC coverage of the Tory proposals is here.
A teaching union is worried that "educare" - the extended care of young children by state schools/nurseries - might not be of high quality. The research which indicates that nursery care outside the home is beneficial to children, always quotes "high quality" care as conferring a benefit. If the care is not "high quality", it can be damaging, instead. As the union is worried that the care will not be high quality, all of us should be.
I would be interested to know the source for the claim that men are four times more likely to cheat on women when co-habiting than when married, but I don't doubt its truth. This, like the previous posting, is from the Agape Press:
Dr. Janice Crouse, executive director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute in Washington, DC, says the information from several studies is clear: non-marital relationships are costly to women. She explains that the cost starts at the financial level. Women in such relationships, she explains, typically contribute more than 70 percent of the household income.
But women in these types of relationships find themselves on the short end in other ways, she says. "Cohabiting males are four times more likely to cheat on their partners than are husbands," Crouse says. "And the mortality rate for women who cohabit is 50 percent higher than for wives."
Cohabiting women also suffer from the likelihood that they will be more involved in drugs, alcohol abuse, and suicidal tendencies. Traditional marriage, says Crouse, remains the best alternative for women.
The full article is here.
Letter from Harry Benson to the Guardian:
Polly Toynbee trumpets Labour’s mini-manifesto for children (23 Mar). All of these policies undoubtedly have a positive side. But ultimately they further absolve parents of responsibility and entrench the role of state as parent. Pouring taxpayers money into parents hands provides relief from poverty but encourages welfare dependency. Longer school opening hours allow parents to work but send the clear message that it’s OK to leave the children all day. The new children’s centres offer better access to health professionals and “everything children need” – except the parents.
As far as possible, what children really need is to be brought up by two parents. Since there is such a clear link between family stability and children’s outcomes, where are the policies to promote family stability and deal with the problem of rising family breakdown? Firstly, I estimate that over half a million additional families have separated since 1980 entirely due to the trend away from marriage, encouraged by successive governments that have minimized and abolished differences in treatment of married and unmarried families. Three quarters of family breakdown involving young children now comes from the collapse of unmarried families. Secondly, modern relationship education programmes for couples and parents are increasingly accessible, backed by good research, and highly effective at improving relationship stability. Yet while the average taxpayer spends at least £570 per year picking up the pieces of family breakdown, just 21p is spent on preventing things from getting worse. A genuine mini-manifesto for children would focus on incentivising marriage and promoting widespread access to relationship education. Politicians have been quick to act now that the school dinner scandal has come to light. What will it take to do the same for the far more serious scandal of family breakdown? Labour’s policy is a mini-manifesto for adults.
Bristol Community Family Trust
25 Somerset St
Bristol BS2 8LZ
Harry Benson's website is here.
Some commonly believed myths:
That the pay of women in Sweden is closer to that of men than in other societies.
In fact, their pay is lower compared to men than it is for women in other countries. The reason is that they have more rights to maternity leave and that commercial employers therefore avoid employing women, particularly in responsible positions. The pay of women in the USA, relative to that of men, is higher.
That women all wish to combine full-time careers with having children.
In fact, in the view of Catherine Hakim, the academic at the London Schools of Economics on whose research this posting is based, women can be more realistically divided into three sorts, with different attitudes: 1.Home-centred women, 2. Adaptive women (who want a mix of home life, part-time work and full-time work) and 3. Work-centred women. Women do not all want to have full-time careers. On the contrary, that sort of woman is in the minority. This is one of those 'The emperor has no clothes' observations. The moment the words are said, most of us recognise from our own experience that they are true.
That women have lower salaries because we live in a sexist country which discriminates against women.
There is certainly some discrimination. But those women who are work-centred have shown that they are well able to reach senior positions. The main reasons for the generally lower pay of women are that a) they dip in and out of the job market and/or work part time and b) that they are entitled to maternity leave which means they are less attractive to employers.
Catherine Hakim's book, Work-Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century, is a serious academic work and by no means a light read. However it has plenty of meat in it, plenty of surprising information based on solid reserach. It is important as a de-bunking of the lazy assumptions of the politically correct. Here is one excerpt:
Some scholare are now concluding that Nordic egalitarian polices have failed, that the aim of complete gender symmetry is probably unattainable, and that policies acknowledging women's greater involvement in child-rearing would be preferable (Hoem 19995: 295). Family-friendly policies certainly help adaptive women to combine employment with family work. But it appears that they cannot, as some have hoped, also produce complete equality of men and women in the labour market, and apparently not even in the family either. This second objective is feasible, but only for work-centred women, an entirely different group. In sum, the policy failed to distinguish between adaptive and work-centred women. The achievements of the two groups differ because adaptive women have divided loyalties that cannot be resolved by time flexibility alone.
One of many interesting facts in her book is that "a study of women in the top jobs of the British National Health Service found that half were childless, althought the majority had married at some point".
And again, "Virtually all women who are eligible for job-protected maternity leave in Britian tell their employer that they want to return to the their job after childbirth, but only about half do so in practice....Only a minority of mothers of small children return to full-time work."
The book can be bought by clicking on any of the Amazon links in the left column or by clicking here.