There was shit on the wall and pee running down the staircase. Derek Coombs recalls a problem estate suffering from the inexorable decline of stable familiesby Derek Coombs / May 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
The most momentous changes spring up and transform our lives before we have had a chance to consider their effects. Consider the spread of television or the motor car.
Something even more momentous is now springing up on us which politicians are aware of, indeed constantly condemn, but seem incapable of preventing-the collapse of the family. Over the past 30 years marriage rates have fallen sharply, while the number of divorces and children born out of wedlock has risen exponentially.
The litany of decline is depressingly familiar-about 30 per cent of children are currently born to unmarried mothers (245,700 in 1995) and nearly 20 per cent live in a single parent household. Those who dismiss anxiety about such trends as moral panic say that many illegitimate children are born to people cohabiting in stable relationships. That is only partly true and ignores the fact that a significant minority of these relationships are either unstable or non-existent. It also ignores the broader fact that a growing proportion of children will experience some disruption to their family life during their most vulnerable years. Research has established that children brought up in a stable two parent family do better on average on all indicators of development than children in other types of family, yet these other types are increasing much faster.
We are having to live with the consequences of a collapse of commitment. Born into a fly by night society many children have no chance of emotional stability. No wonder so many lack self-esteem and drift into bad habits. But the growth of single parent families and divorce is not only bad news for children. It is creating millions of people without close family ties of any kind. As Paul Ormerod and Bob Rowthorn wrote recently: “Stable families create a network of reciprocal obligation between generations, siblings and partners. This is the primary source of care in old age. According to official figures 93 per cent of informal care for the old is provided by family members, especially spouses and children. On present family trends there will be millions of old people without anyone to care for them. This will impose a huge burden on the state.”
Crime is another side effect of the collapse of commitment. While social scientists argue about the precise connections, it seems evident to most people that family breakdown has played a central role in the…