UK Children’s Commissioner fails British children
It was refreshing to hear the UK Children’s Commissioner calling for strong families this week. Dame Rachel de Souza says that they “represent Britain’s best chance of a bright future”. In her Independent Family Review, she says that “a strong, positive family … [is] the most powerful foundation of all”.
She urged the government to give families wholehearted support. To all worried British parents she sent a pat on the back and to all politicians positive advice:
“Investing in family is the single greatest investment you can make. If we do it right, it is a self-sustaining unit and there to catch us when we fall, and if you are part of a strong family, you cast your net wider to catch others. I am calling on everyone to put family centre-stage of their agenda. If we get this right at a critical moment for families across the country, we will benefit generations to come and change children’s lives.”
The family is critically important, she insisted:
"Family is fundamental and we have become too shy about speaking about just how important it is to us all. If we want to create stronger, happier future generations we must start with the family. If we can get family right, I truly believe everything else can flow from there."
Absolutely. She has nailed it.
Except that the nails in her phrase “if we can get the family right” let the air out of her tyres. For Dame Rachel, love is what defines the family, not structure. Gone is the notion that the ideal family, a family that is robust and loving, is founded on the union of a married father and mother.
It’s obvious that something is wrong with the British family – and families elsewhere in other countries like the United States and Australia.
Dame Rachel’s report shows that 23 percent of UK families are headed by a lone parent. This is far higher than the EU average of 13 percent. “Family structure has gradually changed over the last 20 years, she observes. “There are fewer married couples. There are more couples cohabiting. There are fewer ‘traditional’ nuclear family units today; 44 percent of children born at the start of the century, were not in a nuclear family for their full childhood, compared to 21 percent of children born in 1970.”
On the positive side, her call for more support for the family is a welcome intervention in a political discourse dominated by economics, which fails to recognise the source of national wealth – virtuous, responsible, contented, strong and resilient human beings. Such human beings do not, as some seem to think, fall from the sky fully formed, but grow organically in families.
But, like most modern policymakers, Dame Rachel refuses to endorse any particular form of family. Instead, she finds that: “there is one thing that unifies all families. Irrespective of ethnicity, gender or age, the most frequently used word to describe family was love.”
Did we really need a government report to tell us this? It’s a staple of soapies and country music songs. Government reports ought to identify the kind of family which is most successful at creating this loving environment, not recycle syrupy greeting cards.
Whatever Dame Rachel’s review may say, the family is not just any old collection of individuals living in the same space but springs from the committed relationship of a man and a woman who bring children into the world as part of that relationship.
Marriage is the strong protector of that relationship, a public commitment to stay together whatever happens in life – in fact, the exclusive couple relationship is the best protection against whatever happens in life. The love that she emphasises is more likely to flourish in a family based on a stable marriage, where the family members can be sure that the relationship will last; where they are not living with the constant anxiety that there may be a break-up; where they are afraid of rocking the boat lest it sink.
Despite all the evidence, the modern idea is that marriage is an obstacle to freedom. Influenced by this ideology, it is too easy for relationships to drift into cohabitation, which one party may believe is the precursor to marriage, while the other believes it is better than marriage because it is easier to exit.
The UK Government recently made divorce easier, but cohabitation is even easier to exit – which explains why there are so many single-parent families. There is no point in Dame Rachel wanting government support for “all types of families” because the more support that is given to the less stable forms of family, the more of them there will be, while the tax money that funds them, which comes predominantly from married couples, rapidly dwindles.
And when every family is a broken family, and no child lives with both their parents, and there is no support left -- will Dame Rachel still be arguing that all families must be supported, whatever form they take?
In her bright future will she still be Children’s Commissioner, or will she have passed the baton on to another person equally blind to the necessity of stable marriages? To paraphrase the old Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “There is nothin’ like a dame”: Dame Rachel is nothing like a Children’s Commissioner.
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