Tories: Families solution to growing underclass

The government must promote the benefits of marriage to tackle a “growing underclass” in Britain, a Conservative policy group has argued.

The party’s social justice taskforce, led by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, says family breakdown is a major cause of drug and alcohol addiction, crime and the failure of many individuals to fulfil their potential in jobs or education.

Its interim report notes that 70 per cent of young offenders come from single parent families, and a third of prisoners and more than half of young offenders have been through the care system.

By contrast, it says families where the parents are married are far less likely to split up, and therefore their children are less likely to face the disruption of family breakdown, which costs the economy about £20 billion a year.

“At the heart of stable families and communities lies marriage. For too long this issue has been disparaged and ignored and its erosion has had a detrimental effect on us all,” the report says.

Tory leader David Cameron endorsed the report’s findings last night, saying it was a “powerful and convincing” argument and “underlines my belief that the family is the most important institution in Britain”.

He said: “Families, to me, are not just the basic unit of society, they’re the best. They are the ultimate source of our society’s strength or weakness.”

However, work and pensions secretary John Hutton told BBC One’s Sunday AM yesterday: “This looks like ‘back to basics’ all over again and I can’t believe that is where the Tories want to end up on this.”

Today’s report, which will be followed up by a full study published next summer, acknowledges the role poverty, bad housing, unemployment, debt and drug and alcohol addiction play in social breakdown, but argues families are also vital.

“In short, we need a system that understands that while material deprivation must continue to be dealt with, poverty isn’t just an issue of money. While money is important, so is the quality of the social structure of our lives,” it says.

“To improve the wellbeing of this country it is necessary that we help the people of Britain improve the quality of their lives or we will all become poorer.”

Although short on actual policy, it suggest providing tax breaks for married couples, to end the current situation where many couples actually hide their relationship because they can do better on welfare if they register as single individuals.

The report also recommends more relationship advice and emotional support for couples with children to help keep them together, saying this area has lost out because of the focus on helping single parents – although it says it does not disapprove of this.

“We spend between £500 and £800 per taxpayer on the cost, the direct cost of family breakdown that we all pay for by supporting people who are in difficulty,” Mr Duncan Smith told BBC News 24.

“We pay less than 50p per taxpayer on actually trying to get ahead of that by counselling and help to stabilise relationships.”

However, social exclusion minister Pat McFadden told the same programme: “We used to have a tax break and divorce rate went through the roof during the time that that tax break was in operation.

“So I don’t think it is as simple as saying a tax break then that will encourage people to get married. It is a bit more complex than that.”