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A Manifesto to Strengthen Families - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative 5:00 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I, as one of the signatories to this manifesto, thank my noble friend Lord Farmer very much for his work in this area and for securing this debate. I also welcome my noble friend the Minister to his important new position. My support for this manifesto is not based on value judgments or a desire to turn back the clock, but neither do I think we should disown the past as if it had nothing positive or worth while to teach us.

As we all know, Britain has an increasingly serious childhood mental health problem, with one in 10 children estimated to have a diagnosable mental health condition. Indeed, in a survey of more than 4,500 children seen by child and adolescent mental health services in 2015, “family relationship problems” were cited by half of these children as the cause of their mental health problems. Moreover, the Marriage Foundation conducted research that shows that being with their married parents significantly improves both the self-esteem and life chances of teenagers. In other words, having married parents can boost children’s mental health. Yet, nearly half of all teenagers are not living with both parents.

What does the data show to be the main driver of family breakdown? The data shows that it is cohabitation—that the separation of unmarried parents now accounts for the majority of family breakdowns. Thus, although cohabiting parents account for 21% of all couples, the separation of cohabiting parents accounts for 51% of all family breakdown.

I want to stress that I am not condemning parents in cohabiting relationships or those parents—in many cases mums—who find the courage to take themselves and their children out of an unhappy marriage. However, neither situation in itself devalues the case for supporting marriage as a model, which all the evidence shows brings tangible benefits across the piece. It is worth noting that a ComRes poll conducted only in August this year shows that 71% of British adults agree that marriage is important and that the Government should support couples who get married.

I say to my noble friend the Minister: what better way for this Government to show they are on the front foot on social justice than to introduce the measures contained in this manifesto, and thereby strengthen the primary tried-and-tested source of stability in our country—the family.