Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The end of the nuclear family?

A while back, James Bartholomew wrote an article in response to comments from Dr Katherine Rake, the new Chief Executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, about the decline of the nuclear family:
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.
This rings true. The Telegraph article he links to highlights the scale of the changes:
  • "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."
A bit of googling turned up Dr Rake's introductory speech. It doesn't contain any explosive left-wing propaganda, just subtle biases. One would hardly expect someone in her role to condemn "non-traditional" family arrangements, but she does seem to underestimate the benefits of the traditional family. And while we would expect her paramount concern to be the welfare of children, we find hints that she's more concerned about the role of women:
While mothers' employment is up, single mothers with children under five are the least likely to be working with employment rates 28 per cent lower than for mothers who live as part of a couple.
Is "mothers' employment" something we should worry about? And if so, which direction would we like to see it go?

It should be self-evident that, in general, children benefit from:
  • living in a stable, two-parent home
  • being cared for at a young age by a stay-at-home parent
  • growing up in a house where people work
There are various ways that this can be achieved. Fathers, as well as mothers, can choose to take care of the children rather than working. Parents can take turns at the stay-at-home role.

Only in rare cases will children suffer more under a two-parent arrangement than a single-parent one. In the majority of those cases, the parents should not have had children in the first place.

Rake notes, in passing, that the "teenage pregnancy rate is falling only slowly and teenagers from the most deprived areas have maternity rates 12 times that of the least deprived", but she does not speculate about the reasons for this, much less condemn the perverse government incentives that contribute to this phenomenon.

Bartholomew does not shy away from such questions:
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.
I agree unreservedly.

However, Bartholomew goes on to say he 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.
This I cannot support. We need a simple tax regime, without endless allowances, which are invasive and expensive to administer. We should be especially wary of allowances that are liable to influence behaviour. When it comes to personal choices, like getting married and having children, the state has no business pushing people one way or the other. Moreover, it is unjust to shift the tax burden away from those who choose to have children, and suddenly find themselves with "basic costs to bear". Let grown-ups make their decisions, and live with them.

And reduce taxes overall, so that all citizens, with or without children, spend less time working for the state, and more time working for themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment