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British Commenatry on UNICEF Report (Daily Telegraph)

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on February 19, 2007

Monday, 19 February 2007

British Commenatry on UNICEF Report (Daily Telegraph)

By David Green, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:25am GMT 18/02/2007

Family breakdown is back. Last week’s Unicef report on the wellbeing of children ranked the UK bottom of a league table of 21 countries.

It arrived as London’s teenage shootings revealed just how bad things can get when parents do not provide the combination of unqualified love and moral boundaries that young people need.

Today’s Sunday Telegraph’s poll found that more than a third of Britons recognise that family breakdown explains our ranking in the Unicef report.

What do we need to do to rebuild the family? The family is not yet dead in Britain. While we have amongst the highest number of lone parent families in Unicef’s league table, 78 per cent of children here are raised by couples. The majority of young people expect to marry. And lone parents don’t like lone parenthood: the majority eventually marry or re-marry.

The problem is less with the British people than with our government. Our tax system no longer recognises marriage. Other countries use the tax system to incentivise families. In France, for instance, couples can divide their income between themselves and their children.

An adult counts as one unit and a child as half, so that a married couple with two children would be able to divide their income between three units. Each “unit” has a personal tax allowance and so less tax is paid, leaving couples with enough money to juggle their time between child care and work as they believe best.

We could go a step further and encourage cross-generational family solidarity by allowing income to be assigned to any relative living at the same address. A couple who took responsibility for caring for their elderly parents, for example, could assign part of their income to them and pay less tax.

Scrapping inheritance tax would further encourage support across the generations. Families could build up assets – property, durable goods, shares, cash – with the intention of handing them on, thus rebuilding the extended family on a solid economic base.

Strong families are the best form of social insurance. If there is a political ideology behind family breakdown, it is the idea that the government can solve social problems by passing laws. Families allow the state to be confined to the important but limited tasks for which it is suited. Marriage can be seen as a kind of insurance policy: one which has the additional benefit that it does not impose costs on others.

Despite the defeatist rhetoric of those who say “nothing can be done” to arrest family breakdown, a tried and tested solution is available. Workfare reduced welfare dependency in the US from 14 million to four million people between 1994 and 2006. Unmarried and separated parents were treated as a unit. If they chose to live under separate roofs that was up to them.

The government treated them as a self-supporting unit of mother, father and child. The father was expected to support himself and the child, and the mother to support herself. Absent parents were not allowed easily to escape their responsibility. Child support had to be paid and failure could lead to prison. A government can’t make men into good fathers, of course – but it can make them pay child support.

Holland came top of the Unicef league, not only because it has less family breakdown, but also because its education system is more competitive. In some places, a group of 50 parents has the constitutional right to set up an independent school.

About 70 per cent of Dutch children now attend independent schools. The average school size is small: an average elementary school has only 160 pupils. The Dutch are not great churchgoers, but a majority of parents send their children to church schools that offer clear moral guidance. It may be why their crime rate is 25 per cent lower than ours.

We can fix the broken family in Britain. But without a better approach to taxes and benefits, and a less monopolistic education system, progress in repairing our social fabric will be painfully slow.

David Green is Director of Civitas

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