Tag Archives: Tories

Playing Happy Families

23 Jun

"That's it, sweetie. Pin down daddy's wrist so he can never ever leave"

Following David Cameron’s announcement last weekend that people should stigmatise deadbeat dads, I’ve been wondering how I can do my bit to help.

Cameron declared that “runaway dads” should have “the full force of shame” heaped upon them by society. Well, I’m part of society – how can I join in, Dave? Maybe I could sneer at them in supermarkets. Perhaps I should cross the street to avoid them. Or boo at them, panto-style. Or befriend them on Facebook just to ‘Poke’ them incessantly. Well, that would be annoying, but probably not sufficiently stigmatising.

The thing is, even before Cameron’s speech, fathers who abandoned their kids weren’t exactly celebrated members of society anyway; there was no Deadbeat Daddies national day of celebration or dedicated Runaway Dad card section in Clinton’s (though Moonpig does a good range).  So our PM’s words were no step towards enlightenment.

It was a pointless, empty-gesture statement, and one of those statements that you can’t dispute without coming across as evil, nutty or lacking common sense –  in this case, as someone who sides with negligent dads, and against abandoned children and single mothers. Rather like Cameron’s accompanying comment on tax breaks for married people.

In his message on Sunday, the PM reiterated proposals to “recognise marriage in the tax system, so as a country we show we value commitment”. There it is again: the statement you can’t disagree with because doing so would suggest you don’t want us as a country to show we value commitment. If you aren’t 100% on board with what Cameron’s saying, then you are implying that our nation should endorse flakiness. But at the risk of seeming to champion a commitment-phobic Britain, let’s question the PM’s policy of marital tax breaks.

If you’re in your twenties, broken marriages were a reality for many of your classmates back in school. Divorce rates in the UK jumped in the eighties and early nineties. 1994 still holds the record for highest rate of divorces per thousand married couples since records began.

For our generation, divorce was ubiquitous enough for it to be a key childhood truism that it’s probably better for your parents to be happily separated than constantly fighting but together. We grew up with the knowledge that marriage in itself doesn’t guarantee a stable home environment and that there are plenty of successful family frameworks out there that don’t conform to the cookie-cutter template of a married mummy and daddy and 2.4 children (or today’s average of 1.7).

Marriage ban

Twenty-somethings are increasingly opting not to wed

Equally, unmarried cohabiting is the growing norm for couples in their twenties, as the Daily Mail perpetually laments. Marriage rates are falling, and people who do wed are doing so later. The average age for first-time brides and grooms are 29.9 and 32.1 respectively.

A whole swathe of the population has grown up shunning the notion that ‘marriage’ is a synonym for ‘stable relationship’. So, why oh why does Cameron want to switch reality for ideology, and mould family structures into a prescribed format using financial incentives? His policy would mean, in effect, that an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship gets less reward than compulsive divorcees of the Ross-from-Friends kind, who skip from one marriage to the next.

It’s not even much of a bribe for marital commitment: the tax break you’d get once you’ve tied the knot works out at less than £3 a week. It’s the Tories’ attempt at a cost-effective, quick-fix social scheme: happy families for the price of a Happy Meal.  And like a Happy Meal, it sounds less promising on closer inspection of its contents.

Luxmy Gopal