Tim thinks that Melissa Kite twisted IDS's remarks chasing a headline. Admittedly this wouldn't be the first time that has happened, and it is certainly true that this story has distracted from the main issue, which is that kids who are brought up by two parents in a stable family environment tend to do better than those that are not. But as several people have commented here and on ConservativeHome, IDS should have seen this issue coming and prepared himself accordingly. Because he didn't, the story is not what it should have been. Having re-read his remarks I don't believe I rushed to judgement at all. I called it as I saw it - an unwise and ill-judged remark.
However, moving on, I think IDS's report in general is terrific and says some things that need to be said. His article in today's Sunday Times. The key issues he highlights are these:
Children who have suffered family breakdown are 75% more likely
to fail in education and are far more vulnerable to poor mental health and
addictions. People with a history of drug or alcohol addiction are more than
twice as likely to have experienced personal debt as the general population.
The report, Breakdown Britain, demonstrates, according to the Sunday Telegraph..
Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent
families. The cost of family breakdown is £20 billion a year. Children from a
broken home are twice as likely to have behavioural problems, 70 per cent more
likely to be a drug addict.
The key passage from Melissa kite's interview with IDS is this one...
"The facts show that there is a difference between a cohabiting couple with children and a married couple with children. The reality is the children themselves do suffer enormously. The life chances of those children degrade immediately on the breakdown. Also the quality of life for the single mother degrades. She will be 20 per cent worse off the moment the man
walks out the door. So who's going to pick up the cost? Twenty per cent loss
means you are going to cascade into support from the state." He adds: "There are
great single mothers out there and there are also good cohabiting parents who
will succeed against the odds, but it will be against the odds because the
majority will suffer these other problems."
In a striking analysis, he believes that gangs are on the
rise because they have become substitute families. Kids of 13, 14, 15 running
pretty near wild on the streets… we need to understand why these kids are in
this violent criminal behaviour much more than 20 years ago, and most of it
comes down to a real problem where the breakdown and absence of structure and
family mean that those kids are seeking structure and family elsewhere." The
unstable family is also fuelling abuse of women, he believes. "There's a big
problem about what I call the stepfathering syndrome, these guesting fathers,
the boyfriends that come in. This non-biological parent arriving, who's there
for a period of time, may father another child, may move on, but in that process
a significant proportion… breeds violence." He concludes by reiterating: "Two
parents looking after a child has got to be what you want."
I don't disagree with a word of that. It is not stigmatising lone parenthood to discuss well researched facts. Lone parents often do a tremendous job but it is simply a fact that a child has a better chance in life if it comes from a stable, two parent background. No one thinks that this is possible for every child, but IDS is right to say that our welfare and tax system needs to promote what is right for children.
I look forward to seeing what measures he proposes to help address these issues when his report is published tomorrow.
UPDATE: On the Politics Show, IDS clarified his remarks on gay parenting. He said: "In terms of what effect they have on child rearing and therefore how they would change or displace our figures, then there are so few bringing up children that either way it's not going to make any change. It was in no way a judgment about gay couples bringing up children, if they are bringing them up well then well done, good luck to them, that's exactly what we believe in - structure and stability are important."