In 1997 John Major handed over to Tony Blair arguably the most benevolent set of economic statistics any incoming government had ever inherited. But as Ken Clarke acknowledged ‘we are set to take over the biggest mess that a Conservative party has ever inherited from a Labour government’ and that does not just mean a country with the worst set of economic circumstances in the G20 but one with the worst social problems. The term ‘Broken Britain’ is one David Cameron has used regularly since becoming leader nearly four years ago. In the whole of Western Europe we come last on most aspects of child welfare whether that be poverty levels or how kids rate their lives. This is wholly unacceptable for a country of our tradition, resources and potential and we have to raise the question why Britain finds itself in such a position.
I firmly believe that a strong family lays the foundation to equip us with the fundamental skills we are able to use in life. However in recent years the family seems to be spiralling downwards and we now have many ‘dysfunctional families’ which include the fragmented (seperated or divorced couples) and the fatherless. Although this affects every group across the social spectrum, this decline now seems to be more common with the groups who are less advantaged in society. As a consequence children are now likely to feel neglected and grow up without that strong starting base, a situation which can be compared to a house built upon sand. As a result family breakdown is strongly correlated with issues such as high levels of teenage pregnancy and crime. The latter is a serious problem. Two years ago, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter because they were victims of anti social behaviour caused by groups of people who come from families i have just described. Many families and individuals across the country face similar abuse on a regular basis at the hands of these groups.
As David Cameron has made clear, we can only tackle this problem by addressing the problems of family breakdown. But what can a government actually do? One proposal is to recognise marriage and the importance of interdependence between family members through the tax system by rewarding these groups. Another is to instead of focusing on funding for teenagers to prevent crime and anti social behaviour, perhaps we should target children when they are much younger as part of a more positively focused effort to radically improve their life chances. Whatever approach is implemented there is no doubting the challenge ahead in fixing ‘Broken Britain’.