Now is the government’s chance to promote marriage and tackle our social problems

The Times – Sir Paul Coleridge 13 July 2017
Family First Comment: This is a great commentary by a senior family court judge in the UK:
“In 2012, after 43 years in the family justice system (14 sitting as a judge) watching the inexorable and seemingly unstoppable rise in family breakdown, I began to talk publicly about the scale and depth of the problem I was witnessing daily. I was driven by three motives: first, a desire to challenge the entrenched belief that nothing could be done to stop the rot; second, a conviction, having watched the fallout for so long in the family courts, that our children were the sector of the population most adversely affected by the epidemic and third, that the remedies had to be applied to the causation end of the problem, not the remedy end. In short, our children’s life chances were being seriously and permanently damaged and we had to do something to publicise the scale of the problem and suggest solutions….
“…. This is not some moral crusade designed to hark back to some imaginary golden age. It is a public health campaign affecting millions of families, adults and children, of the greatest priority. The less well-off, the next generation and the public purse would be the main beneficiaries.”
Exactly!

In 2012, after 43 years in the family justice system (14 sitting as a judge) watching the inexorable and seemingly unstoppable rise in family breakdown, I began to talk publicly about the scale and depth of the problem I was witnessing daily. I was driven by three motives: first, a desire to challenge the entrenched belief that nothing could be done to stop the rot; second, a conviction, having watched the fallout for so long in the family courts, that our children were the sector of the population most adversely affected by the epidemic and third, that the remedies had to be applied to the causation end of the problem, not the remedy end. In short, our children’s life chances were being seriously and permanently damaged and we had to do something to publicise the scale of the problem and suggest solutions.

Fortunately and wonderfully I discovered that others shared my concerns and vision. Thus was Marriage Foundation born and launched in May that year. Most thought it was a hair-brained idea with no future. Five years on we have confounded our critics.

Time and again our research department has injected reality and hard evidence into this debate with eye-catching research that the media has broadcast. We are justifiably proud of our achievements, but we still have a long way to go.

In the five years in which Marriage Foundation has been campaigning, the subject of marriage has become highly relevant, but also highly toxic. While the definition of marriage has been redefined to include same-sex couples (in recognition of the huge benefits it confers on the couple) support for marriage generally has been singularly lacking, especially among most policymakers and opinion-formers. George Osborne had to be dragged kicking and screaming into finally including a transferable marriage tax allowance of £200 in his budgetary package. The figure was so derisory that almost no one bothered to apply for it and the government had to advertise its existence. The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have vowed to scrap it.

And yet, as we have shown, the cost of family breakdown to the public purse and the impact on the least well-off is beyond doubt. At the same time the so-called couple penalty caused by the financial advantage in benefit legislation in living apart (a whopping £7,000 a year) endures.

It is, of course, obvious why this paradox in attitudes has emerged; the least well-off (ie the greatest number of the voting public) have, to their manifest disadvantage, become less enamoured of the commitment of marriage. In an irresponsible attempt not to upset such a large section of the electorate the politicians pretend it matters not. Disingenuously they cry: “It is just a piece of paper.” And yet in the vast majority of cases they are themselves married; 90 per cent of the Cabinet. “Do as I say, not as I do”, perhaps? Or just plain hypocrisy.

So, government — now is your chance to make a real difference to the lives of so many and tackle the real causes of our serious social problems. Let me suggest a five-point plan: start by absorbing and understanding what the research is telling us. Successive governments refuse to believe what the figures tell them or ignore them for fear of upsetting parts of the population who most need assistance. Make the issue of families and family breakdown a Cabinet-level priority. Let us have a tax and benefit system directed to promoting and supporting marriage and sustained relationships. Fund and promote relationships education and support at a proper level.

In particular, stop being shy about supporting marriage. This is not some moral crusade designed to hark back to some imaginary golden age. It is a public health campaign affecting millions of families, adults and children, of the greatest priority. The less well-off, the next generation and the public purse would be the main beneficiaries.

Article written by Sir Paul Coleridge a retired judge of the High Court of England and Wales. He is currently the Chairman of the Marriage Foundation.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/now-is-the-governments-chance-to-promote-marriage-and-tackle-our-social-problems-gghzx6gr5

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