This recent article from the UK Telegraph significantly reveals the intersection between public policy and family strength by Sir Paul Coleridge, Chairman of the Marriage Foundation and a former High Court judge.
Brexit is an Opportunity to Reverse the Tragic Decline of Marriage in Britain
The Telegraph by Paul Coleridge, February 6, 2017
Heaven preserve us from pundits and experts. The national Brexit debate has spawned more expert forecasts than the Met Office in a hurricane. We have had predictions of the Third World War (David Cameron), a punishment Budget (George Osborne), the end of civilization (Donald Tusk), a house price crash (the Treasury) and, on the other side of the coin, an extra £350 million a week for the NHS (Vote Leave) and a clampdown on immigration (just about everyone in the Brexit camp). And that is to ignore altogether Mark Carney's consistently inaccurate predictions.
So, against that record and with some hesitation, this is my "go" at the Brexit prediction game: Brexit will, over time, prove good for family stability and marriage rates. And for me as chairman of the Marriage Foundation, after forty years in the business of family justice, (fourteen as a family High Court judge) witnessing the endless river of human misery unleashed by the collapse of the nuclear family since the 1970s, that would be good news indeed. Yes, I am cautiously optimistic.
This week is International Marriage Week, an annual event focusing our minds both as individuals and collectively on the vital importance of marriage as one of the most powerful forces for good in society. So, with that in mind, let me explain why our decision to exit the European Union and revert to full self-government of the UK might revive marriage and enhance family stability.
And it boils down to national psychology. Anyone who has followed the history leading to Britain's membership of the EU, starting with our abortive efforts to join the Common Market in the 1960s, knows that we joined out of weakness, not strength. Post-war Britain, beset by the loss of its empire and economic decline, had lost confidence in its ability to make its way in the world on its own. It looked across the Channel to the resurgent countries of the EEC, notably West Germany, France and Italy, and decided that it would be better off and safer if it hitched up to the European train.
We gradually transferred abroad our responsibility for our economic future and our inherent right to make our own laws. As time passed and Brussels's behemothic ambitions swelled (some 10,000 directives or "laws") so politicians, officials and policy-makers looked more and more to Europe for guidance and decision-making. Our traditional independence and self-confidence withered.
And this "State will provide" attitude infected our national domestic life too. The generous welfare system did nothing to discourage family breakdown and it became economically possible for a woman to support children without financial support from herself or a husband. More and more items of our household expenditure were picked up by the State. Notions of individual family self-reliance faded.
The figures are striking. In the early 1970s when we joined the EEC, the marriage rate among new parents was at least 90 per cent - across all social classes. Single parents (invariably women) numbered 650,000. Today, as we leave the EU, the numbers are starkly different. Single parents now number two million. Marriage has become the preserve of the middle and upper classes. Among parents of children under the age of five, almost 90 per cent of the richest parents marry (no change) compared to only 24 per cent of the poorest (a huge decline). The divorce rate, which soared in the 1980s, is now back to 1970s levels. So the married are not doing too badly.
But cohabitation, rare in the 1970s, is now commonplace with just under 50 per cent of children being born to a cohabiting couple or single parent. As Marriage Foundation research has repeatedly shown, these changes in family structure have driven family instability. Cohabiting couples with children are almost certain to split before their children's mid teens in stark contrast to married parents. Thus the number of children growing up without a father, especially among the less well off, has soared. The public cost of family breakdown is now estimated at a huge £50 billion a year.
And this matters because children brought up in a stable relationship by both parents do markedly better throughout their lives on every measure of successful development.
Of course, no one could sensibly suggest that Brexit is a magic bullet for the restoration of the stable married family. But as our country retakes control of its destiny in vital areas of national life, I believe self-reliance will re-emerge as a valued part of our national life. As this progresses the default position of the individual will be less to the State and more to the family and community.
The wider opportunities and horizons that can flow from a successful Brexit, one where we re-establish ourselves as a strong and distinctive player in the world, will inspire a resurgence of national and individual self-confidence which will flow back into family life. And an increase in the rate of the serious commitment of marriage and a reduction in family breakdown will naturally evolve from that.
That is, with humility, my prediction.