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A tsunami of social disintegration waiting to happen

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Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has warned that the latest revelation of the scale of Britain's "underclass" -  half a million problem families -  is "only the tip of an iceberg which is lurking to shipwreck society".

He was commenting on an interview given to the Sunday Times by Louise Casey, the troubleshooter engaged by David Cameron in 2011 to turn round a problem then estimated at 120,000 failing families, following the urban summer riots. 

Casey, Director General of Troubled Families, now calculates that the problem is four times greater with dysfunctional families blighting neighbourhoods and costing the taxpayer more than £30bn a year.

Bishop Michael says, "The impact of family failure is greater than Louise Casey estimates and it is increasing exponentially with the subliminal cost of associated social ills such as treating depression, anxiety, other related illnesses, disruption at school and in the workplace - all adding to the bill for dealing with the more conspicuous law and order costs."

He refers to the “Cost of Family Failure Index” produced by the Relationships Foundation which puts the cost of family breakdown at £46 billion – a 25% increase over five years – and the equivalent of every taxpayer in the UK paying £1,541 each year to pick up the pieces.

“The financial cost is of itself staggering - equivalent to the entire UK defence budget - and yet it doesn’t take into account the continuing emotional and Spiritual cost to the millions of adults and children damaged by family disintegration,” says the Bishop.

Dismantling marriage

Bishop Nazir-Ali says the political, social and spiritual challenge facing the UK is "a tsunami  of social disintegration waiting to happen".

He traces the problem of family failure to decades of dilution and dismantling of the value of  marriage as the ideal family structure.

“For the first time since records began there are now more unmarried than married people of marriageable age and the reality is that fewer and fewer couples have stable relationships,” he points out.

He quotes the humanist philosopher, Brenda Almond, who observes that while some relationships of cohabitation do last for many years, on the whole they are more unstable than marital relationships. “This is partly because the intention of cohabitees is to avoid the very commitment that marriage requires,” explains the Bishop.

Children the real victims

He emphasises that the greatest victims of family breakdown are children with 2.5 million separated families in Great Britain and the rate of separations running at 300,000 per year.

“There is extensive evidence showing that stability in the family contributes positively to the development of children and that is an argument in favour of marriage. Family breakdown means children grow up in poorer housing conditions, they perform less well in school, they exhibit behavioural problems and require more medical treatment than their peers who live in homes where a mother and father remain together.”

Bishop Nazir-Ali points to the startling facts that a child born today will by the age of 16 only have a 50-50 chance of living with both birth parents, and that children deprived of their fathers, which is the most likely outcome of family breakdown, achieve much poorer life outcomes.

Research emphasises role of fathers

“Hard evidence from serious research shows that when children live with their fathers they have better physical and emotional health, they are more likely to avoid drugs and delinquency, and they do better academically.”

He says Brenda Almond references such research which demonstrates that divorce is harmful for children, except in extreme cases such as domestic violence between husband and wife.

“Even where there is significant conflict in the marriage, family life in a married household is better for the welfare and development of children – but of course this reality contradicts the misguided but popular ‘wisdom’ that divorce in such situations is good for children.”

The Bishop says the Prime Minister himself has fallen for this myth in his latest speech on the family, given in London on Monday, when Mr. Cameron said, “divorce can sometimes be the best outcome for children”.

“Such a doctrine is a convenient excuse for parents to get what they want and it absolves them from any guilt,” says the Bishop.

Malaise of the family no accident

He argues that what the Prime Minister and others fail to say is that the “malaise we see affecting the family today” is not an accident but rather “the result of a well-resourced social and intellectual movement” which emerged in the 1960s.

“Opinion formers such as the Marxist philosophers, Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse, advocated infiltrating and undermining the fundamental structures of society, and family and marriage were the key targets. Others argued that a social evolution was taking place away from patriarchal, heterosexual norms and the result has led to the end of the public doctrine that marriage and certainly Christian marriage is best for society.”

What can be done

The Bishop proposes a range of initiatives to counteract the malaise of family failure.
“What is needed is proper marriage preparation for all and the church should play a major part in this, as well as the state.”

He emphasises that those undergoing civil weddings need proper preparation for married life also.

“We should be looking at what happens in some states in the US which offer pre-nuptials that give specific advice to couples on what to do if a marriage gets into difficulty; we could introduce compulsory counselling services for couples experiencing difficulties; divorce could be permitted only on certain compelling and grave, agreed grounds; the tax system could give greater recognition to the importance of marriage; we could provide valuable support for parents who stay at home to look after children; and we could devise child-friendly employment policies.”

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s book, ‘Triple Jeopardy for the West’, expands on his analysis of the crisis facing the family in Britain today and what Christians can do to reverse the trend away from Christian values.

You can buy Bishop Michael’s book here >