Tuesday 18 June 2013

Love And Marriage

It is suggested that at present some 25% of children are in "lone parent" families.  A figure for this is not easy to calculate with certainty and to it might be added those in changing partnerships and circumstances.  The implication is that this is modern type of family situation and departs from the "norm" of most children being in a nuclear family with two parents.

Back in the 1890's my four great grandmothers at the time were often all lone parents.  Two were young widows and the other two were both married to merchant seamen who were more away than at home.  Trawling around Census Returns from 1841 to 1911 this was far from unusual. 

The number of families disrupted by mortality, disease, events and very often the requirements of work was very large.  We know from reports the many street children left to wander as well as the numbers being brought up in institutions because of family collapse or crisis.

In the 20th Century in the UK in the second and third decades the losses of the First War and other problems meant many lone parents and then in the fifth decade and after for a period the same happened again.  So the idea of a continuing nuclear family living in a reliable and self funded way seems to have been a short phases in a particular time of relative prosperity.

It is possible that the ideal for family has not been achieved in the past as often as we think and in until recent times came nearer to it because of an unusual situation where in the developed world health provision, incomes, housing and work structures enabled more families to survive in a relatively benign environment.  This may be over now but we are still attempting to live with the basic assumptions of recent prosperity.

A lot of this is to do with housing, property generally and the connected systems of welfare benefits.  Compared with the past we have granted ourselves astonishingly high levels of expectation, credit expansion, ideas about entitlement of space and facilities and benefit support from the state, central and local.

One effect of all this, allied to much changed cultural and social thinking has been to tip the scales against the nuclear family and the idea of continuing support in marriage.  For many the default is not marriage or wider family for many of us but the state system of benefits and social services.  Add all the "rights" legislation and law and their application this has racked up demand and entitlement to a high level.

At the same time the way the property market has worked has had perverse effects.  At the rich end of the scale persons with wealth live in properties in small numbers that once might have housed quite a lot of people.  As you move down the scale and allow for ageing as well there is a lot of space in a lot of properties. 

Then there are all the second and third homes, holiday homes, holiday lets that are rarely let out of the family and the consequence is that quite a lot of people today are taking much more room compared to the past.  Very recently money flight into the London and the South East has resulted in boosting prices and costs and often taking more space out of ordinary use. 

When one time workers two or three bedroom small terrace houses are coming in at a million or more then something is very awry with the market.  Yet politicians win more acclaim and favour for wanting to make matters worse using funny money and racking up debt than trying to get things back to a more sane and responsive market.

The collateral damage is impacting on many aspects of our lives, culture and social structures, never mind finance, tax and spending.  But one major area is families and how they do or do not function and sustain themselves.

The signs are that increasingly many are not and never will be if we attempt to go on like this and another crash or economic contraction will not be the answer.

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