The most important single feature in the healthy and happy development of children is the stable and healthy relationship of the parents. Despite the glossy magazine image of a so-called happy marriage, it does not fall from the sky ready-made onto the beautiful people in white linen suits. No, it is hewn out of the rock of human stubbornness and selfishness, with cold chisels and day by day, over the lifetime of the relationship. It involves endless hard work, compromise, forgiveness and love. It is often held together with string and rusty nails but it is, in the end, beautiful and, like everything which is really worthwhile, it is worth the investment. And the longer it endures the better and easier it gets.
Sir Paul Coleridge (Coleridge, 2012)
In June 2005 the new Chief Executive of CAFCASS, Anthony Douglas, took the desperate step of writing an open letter exclusively to fathers in an attempt to head off their growing campaign. The letter committed the agency to constructive cooperation with various fathers’ groups, including the display of leaflets in its offices,
For the last 6 months, CAFCASS has been in a constructive dialogue with Fathers 4 Justice with the twin objective of making progress on the issues facing fathers and avoiding a negative cycle of direct action against our offices…
In private law cases, we work at the hard edge when relationships collapse. Emotions are always running high. We do not want to be seen by fathers or mothers who come to us for help as biased against them. The evidence we have from research shows that our involvement results in more children having more time with their fathers. In our view, long-term dialogue is more likely to promote positive change and a stronger joint understanding than conflict.
CAFCASS and Fathers 4 Justice will be taking some practical steps to develop their relationship further. This will include F4J meeting the CAFCASS Board in July, and newly designed F4J leaflets being displayed in CAFCASS offices (Douglas, 2005).
Fathers4Justice continued to engage in dialogue with CAFCASS, but CAFCASS never identified the research it cited and never delivered on its commitments. Many in the organisation felt that F4J had struck a deal with the devil and betrayed its members; O’Connor’s inability to stand candidates in the General Election caused further dissatisfaction. A bid to launch F4J in the US proved unsuccessful: a scouting mission had been dogged by three car-loads of FBI agents and when F4J arrived to launch the new enterprise their timid American counterparts backed out of the deal, preferring to set up a charitable self-help group rather than engage in confrontational activism, while still using the F4J name and corporate ID.
Back in the UK O’Connor was losing control: one activist had stolen £20,000 worth of banners and merchandise and local coordinators were pocketing membership fees. Whistle-blowers were expelled. Lack of progress was causing the organisation to fragment. Grumblings continued; O’Connor threw out anyone who didn’t toe the party line and many others resigned, leading to the decision to pull the planned Father’s Day demonstration. The core of the group decamped and, believing that O’Connor had abandoned his founding principles, called their new organisation the Real Fathers for Justice. One member’s comment gives a flavour of prevailing attitudes,
No-one has been prouder than I to be part of this organisation. It gave me a reason to live when my reason for living was taken away. I will always be grateful for that. Nevertheless, I will no longer tolerate the bullshit, double-standards, hypocrisy and mismanagement which has become a way of life for our so-called ‘management team’. Our members get enough of that in the family courts – they certainly don’t expect it from us.
ITV had planned to run a two-part Granada documentary about F4J to coincide with the demonstration. Instead they decided to show it in November following the ‘Bedlam’ protest – a colourful bed-push through London to promote overnight staying contact as a minimum. Granada had resorted to shameful tactics in order to present a palpably misleading picture of F4J, hiring thugs with concealed cameras to infiltrate the group, plying vulnerable fathers with alcohol and inciting them to violence. Because of the delay, the Tonight programme, fronted by Trevor Macdonald, depicted members whose damaging conduct had already been dealt with through expulsion. F4J – and Matt O’Connor in particular – had got off lightly.
In January 2006 however, their luck ran out. The Sun newspaper published a front page claiming that Special Branch had smashed a plot by Fathers4Justice to kidnap 5-year-old Leo Blair, the Prime Minister’s son. By evening it was the lead story on all news channels. The story was vigorously denied: F4J was in the business of reuniting children with their fathers, not separating them. O’Connor was aware, however, that the organisation was gravely damaged and could not campaign credibly until the story had blown over. The growing stress of keeping so controversial a campaign under control was threatening his family life; he did the only thing he could and mothballed the organisation.
The campaign was revived by the gaoling of one of its pre-eminent members, lawyer Michael Cox, for taking a principled stance on child support. O’Connor collared the CSA’s bumptious barrister, Tim Concannon, outside the court, ‘Pass my thanks on to your management. You have just re-ignited the flame of Fathers4Justice’. The group returned to the front pages in May with a demonstration which took the National Lottery live off air; ‘FAMILY LAW LOTTO,’ read the tee-shirts, ‘NEXT TIME IT COULD BE YOU’. O’Connor was running F4J according to the ups and downs of his personal life: he mothballed the group again in September 2008 – to the fury of those who had paid their membership fees and believed the group belonged to them – and re-launched in April 2010, taking advantage this time of social media.
But it was all too late: O’Connor had won the attention of government and then squandered the opportunity by refusing to renounce the sort of aggressive and dictatorial behaviour which made it impossible for them to deal with him. Given a choice between painstakingly arguing his case and staging a brash protest for the party faithful he would always choose the latter. He allowed his ego to rule his head; he petulantly refused to respond to the consultation on cooperative parenting and then when the consultation was closed, pretended he had been denied a hearing. He launched a bizarre Facebook campaign demanding that F4J be invited by the House of Commons Justice Committee to give oral evidence on the draft family justice legislation, notwithstanding the fact that he had poured out his bile on all those organisations which had accepted invitations to give evidence and did his best to destroy their reputations.
Tactically his error was to present the issue as one of civil rights (and himself as a civil rights leader) and to employ the feminists’ mask of equality against them, perpetuating an adversarial stance when what was needed was cooperation and collaboration. Men are always destined to lose the rights argument: the women’s rights lobby swing into action forcing government to back down.
Despite the good intentions behind its formation, the welfare state has become one of the root causes of fatherlessness. It discourages the formation of families, drives fathers out of their families, and subsidises single motherhood. The tax system also has a critical role to play in family breakdown. Labour used benefits to give preference to their favoured sections of society, including single mothers; couples, especially married couples, were more likely to be prosperous and to vote Conservative. Much of Labour’s 13 year rule was designed to increase its share of the vote and reduce that claimed by its rivals: it is well established that Labour immigration policy had been designed to make the UK more multicultural, and to increase the number of ethnic minority immigrants who would be more likely to back Labour. In May 2013 former Labour minister Peter Mandelson admitted that when Labour’s share of the white working class vote collapsed in 1987 the solution was to import a new working class from overseas and that by 2004 they ‘were sending out search parties for people and encouraging them’ (Littlejohn, 2013). Chairman of think-tank Migrationwatch, Sir Andrew Green, commented, ‘Many have long suspected that mass immigration under Labour was not just a cock up but also a conspiracy. They were right. This Government has admitted three million immigrants for cynical political reasons concealed by dodgy economic camouflage’ (Whitehead, 2009).
Similarly, Labour sought to maximise the grateful, client state dependent on benefits; under Labour it doubled – cohabiting and single parents are far more likely to be dependent on state hand-outs than are married parents. Britain’s tax system is almost unique in failing to acknowledge marriage and family obligations, and it pushes couples apart. A 2010 study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that a couple with one earner on £40,000 would be £109.68 a week better off if they split; the worst affected 10% would gain £214.07 per week (Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2010).
A major weapon in Labour’s assault was the ‘tax credit’ – in reality a benefit, which cost the taxpayer an additional £13 billion a year. The system was introduced ostensibly to reduce child poverty. Most children in poverty, however, live in couple families in which one or both parents is in work, and the tax credit system was never designed to help them. Tax credits give most assistance to lone parent households in which only 20% of parents are in work and help raise benefits to a level which destroys any incentive to work for a living. In 2006 a newly separated single mother with three children under five could receive £19,535 in welfare, including £7,800 housing benefit, £6,240 child tax credit, £2,756 income support, £2,444 child benefit and £295 school dinners (Social Justice Policy Group, 2006a). Child poverty in couple families actually increased under Labour because tax credits did not account for the financial needs of the second parent (Beighton & Draper, 2007). To rise out of poverty a two parent household had to earn more than three times as much as a single parent household (Field & Cackett, 2007). The system penalised married and unmarried couples with children – if their combined income was under £50,000 they were better off living apart. If they lived apart and set up house together, their income would drop dramatically (Beighton & Draper, 2007). Working parents do not get a pay rise every time they have another child; parents dependent on benefits do.
When couples living together are discriminated against, and mothers bringing up children alone are financially subsidised by the taxpayer, the advantages of staying together as a family vanish. In her study of the effect of benefits on single motherhood Libertad Gonzalez demonstrated that there is a very simple correlation: as benefits rise, so does single motherhood (Gonzalez, 2006). An increase in pay-outs to single-mother families of 1,000 euros a year would result in a 2% increase in the likelihood of a young woman being a single mother. It doesn’t sound much, but under Labour’s benefit reforms this translated to an increase in the likelihood of a young woman becoming a single mother of nearly 4.5%. The result was another 119,000 new single mothers in the first year. By 2001 UK benefits to single mothers were the highest in Europe (Ibid.).
The researcher Patricia Morgan demonstrated how the benefits system contributes to family breakdown (Morgan P. , 2007). Couples play the system, remaining single when they would normally have married, pretending to live apart when in reality they don’t, and thus jeopardising relationships which might otherwise survive, and making separation within the first 3 years of a child’s life 12 times more likely. Labour’s introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit in 1999 was directly responsible for an increase in the divorce rate amongst the poorest couples of 160% (Francesconi, Rainer, & van der Klaauw, 2009). Former Labour welfare minister Frank Field admitted in June 2007 that the Government ‘brutally discriminates’ against two parent households (Field & Cackett, 2007).
The Coalition did nothing to reverse the ‘couple penalty’ and actually made the situation worse: in 2010 the penalty applied to 68% of all couples and to 95% of those with children, who paid a median penalty of £85 per week; 10% of couples faced a penalty of at least 20% of their net income. Only 4% were better off. The aggregate penalty was £34.3 billion per annum (Adam & Brewer, 2010). The married couple tax break promised in opposition – at a rate of £150 per annum and cost of £550 million – was scrapped following derision from Nick Clegg.
Married families on an average wage where one parent looked after the children at home pay 50% more tax than comparable families elsewhere in the western world (Draper, Beighton, & Pearson, 2011). The combined effect has been a steady reduction in this traditional type of family. The UK benefits trap is one of the deepest in Europe; once caught, the fear of losing benefits by struggling out is a huge incentive to remain in. More than half of single mothers depend on benefits for at least half of their income. What was devised as a safety net has become a snare. In areas of high unemployment – where manufacturing industry has collapsed – large numbers of men have become not only unemployable but unmarriageable: why should young mothers shackle themselves to these directionless men, whose jobs have been taken by Eastern European immigrants and whose self-esteem has been sapped by benefits, when the state will better provide their needs? As male unemployment has increased (in Liverpool, for example, from 12% in 1971 to 30% in 2001) so does the incidence of single motherhood.
In 2010 in the town of Knowsley on Merseyside residents were claiming the UK’s second highest amount of Jobseeker’s Allowance, 25% claimed long-term sickness benefits, half smoked, drug offences were up 50% since 2000 and 70% of children were fatherless. Knowsley’s secondary schools were the worst in the country, barely a quarter of children left school with the bog-standard of five A to C-grade GCSEs. The area was not, however, obviously run-down: Labour had poured money into every state-provided service imaginable – more than £1billion – to create an ‘elaborate façade, concealing some of the greatest social deprivation in this country coupled with an abject lack of social responsibility and a benefits culture that is shocking to behold’ (Platell, 2010). This was the legacy of years of scaremongering and anti-male, anti-family propaganda by Women’s Aid, Gingerbread, the NSPCC and the rest, and the irresponsible exaggeration of the risk posed by male paedophiles. The state is no replacement for the fundamental need and right every child has for a father.
The problem of family breakdown did not receive significant political scrutiny until 2006 with the publication of Breakdown Britain by the Social Justice Policy Group chaired by the former Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith (Social Justice Policy Group, 2006a). The narrower issue of family court injustice has featured even less prominently. Family breakdown, according to the Social Justice Policy Group, could be summed up in just three words: dissolution, dysfunction and ‘dad-lessness’. It criticised Labour policy which encouraged all types of family indiscriminately while ignoring ‘the fact that some family types, on average, result in better outcomes for children and adults than others’. The report acknowledged – perhaps for the first time – the role played in sponsoring family breakdown by the legal system: ‘across 18 European countries, the combined effect of all legal reforms conservatively amounts to 20% of the increase in divorce rates between 1960 and 2002’, and condemned proposals by the Law Commission to extend rights to cohabiting couples because ‘the dissolution of cohabiting partnerships is the main driver behind lone parent family formation in the UK’. The report endorsed family-centred rather than exclusively child-centred policies; the stabilisation of families and promotion of marriage; and the empowering of individuals rather than the state to raise children. Breakdown Britain revealed the appalling levels of family breakdown, educational failure, welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction and indebtedness within modern Britain, despite massive spending by the Government on welfare. The report showed Labour’s claim to have ‘lifted 2 million people out of poverty’ was false, and that there were more people in severe poverty than a decade earlier. Concentration on material poverty – however ineffective – had left the contributory factors to poverty neglected, such as family breakdown, educational failure, drug and alcohol dependency, unemployment, benefit dependency and debt. The report revealed the direct, causal link between the strength and health of a child’s family and that child’s prospects in life, yet both Labour and the Coalition remained indifferent, and lacked the conviction to address the centrality of family breakdown in causing and sustaining poverty.
After the humanitarian argument, the greatest argument against the single parent state is the economic one. Schemes to return single mothers to work come are commonplace, but in practice are difficult to enforce because of child care issues: who looks after the kids while Mum’s out to work? It’s a no-brainer; the obvious solution is that old-fashioned and much derided social construct, the two-parent family. Any Government is deceiving itself if it thinks it can significantly curb the welfare state until it has reinstated the institution of marriage: it is cohabitation which drives family breakdown. Married men work harder, earn more and pay more in taxes. They have a greater connection to the next generation and are more involved in their children’s education and upbringing. They are healthier, better behaved, spend more time with their partners and drink less. They acquire a greater interest in the future of society, are less likely to commit anti-social behaviour and crimes and are more likely to involve themselves in altruistic social activities.
The direct cost of family breakdown to the UK economy has been estimated at £44 billion a year or £1,470 per taxpayer (Relationships Foundation, 2012) The immediate cost of an intact family breaking down is between £4,000 and £12,000 each year in additional benefits and lost taxes (Rowthorn, 2005). In December 2006 the Social Justice Policy Group reported that Government policy had swollen total spending on child-contingent support from £10 billion in 1975 to £22 billion in 2003 at constant prices (Social Justice Policy Group, 2006b) (Adam, Brewer, & Reed, 2004). In February 2007 the Group published the first official recognition on the links between fatherlessness and crime (Social Justice Policy Group, 2007b).
Already by 2006 57% of UK single mothers were making a deliberate choice to raise their children without fathers (National Centre for Social Research, 2006), evidence which further contradicts the myth that men were abandoning their responsibilities. A number of books has been written on this issue and there are websites to support those who are thinking of taking the plunge. In October 2007 ‘choice’ guru Louise Sloan added another book to the list of such titles as Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice (Hertz, 2006) or Buying Dad (Aizley, 2003). Sloan’s book, Knock Yourself Up (Sloan, 2007), caused quite a stir this side of the Atlantic with journalists like Shannon Kyle in the Guardian hailing it as the beginning of a social revolution (Kyle, 2007). Sloan presents donor insemination and the deliberate raising of children by only one parent as an entirely permissible moral decision; her justification is simple, and gloriously illogical,
What the straight women in this book rejected was not men or marriage—it was the idea of getting into a bad marriage, or the wrong marriage, just to have kids. Or picking a man, any man, to get pregnant by and raise a family with. In fact, many have made the decision to bear a child out of wedlock because they respect marriage too much to enter into it lightly, for reasons of social and procreational expedience. Far from seeing men as unnecessary, I’d argue that these are women who really value men, seeing them as equals, partners, lovers, soulmates—not as a turkey baster attached to a paycheck. Finally, most of us think that having two good parents is a great thing for a kid—but we have ended up deciding that quality beats quantity, where parents are concerned.
These are women who are mostly over 30 (biological clocks ticking down), intelligent, highly paid professionals, mostly heterosexual and who profess to value fatherhood. Like any revolution this one has its prophets, and one whose work is most frequently called upon to justify assisted reproduction technology (ART) is Susan Golombok; but her samples are small, cover only pre-teen children who have not yet questioned their origins, and in some cases involve children whose earliest years were spent with both parents (Golombok & MacCallum, 2003) (Murray, MacCallum, & Golombok, 2006).
Another ‘avatar of a new social movement’ (her phrase) is Peggy F Drexler, author of Raising Boys Without Men,who convinces herself that single and lesbian mothers actually do a better job of raising boys than heterosexual mothers, away from the toxic masculinity of fathers; they are ‘more sophisticated’ and bring up boys whose moral development has not been compromised, ‘stuck with a single male role model’, and who are willing to discard traditional masculinity (Drexler & Gross, 2005). Drexler is not an objective social scientist, but a passionate advocate for lesbian mothers whose research doesn’t employ the accepted objective measures of child well-being, and is blind to anything dysfunctional in her favoured lesbian couples, or to the obvious need the boys she studies have for a father (Sacks, 2005). She refuses to reveal her methodology. ‘Drexler does allow that some male figures can be positive for boys. Who? “Grandfathers, godfathers, uncles, family friends, coaches”—in short, anybody but dad’. Sadly, many boys left to find their own ‘male role models’ choose rebellious, anti-social gang-leaders and the like. The truth is that while one (or two) women can supply a child’s material needs, a mother is no substitute for a father in supplying emotional and social needs; outcomes for children brought up in lesbian relationships are the worst of all family types (Allen D. , 2013).
There are two simple motives behind these single mother advocates who reject marriage as too high an ideal, while still demanding its fruits. The first is what Archbishop of York John Sentamu called ‘rampant individualism’ (Hansard, 2007b), a monumental selfishness which views a child as just another ‘right’ to which the irresponsible consider themselves entitled, a final must-have accessory which will make their frivolous lives complete. The second is the refusal to compromise or reach consensus with another imperfect adult; the single mother can make decisions for her child unilaterally and unopposed, and thus her decisions lack the synthesis which comes about through the combination of male and female perspectives, and lack the understanding of anyone who has actually known what it is to be a boy. These apologists for single motherhood as a lifestyle choice reveal in their writings many of the pathologies of gang members and other delinquents – they are sociopaths who can consider only their own interests, and cannot comprehend their child as a separate and independent being whose needs may not coincide with their own. The perceived right to reproduce, sustained out of envy for partnered mothers, over-rides every other consideration. Their children are the guinea-pigs in a grievously cruel social experiment; the welfare of the child, the first principle of family legislation, has been jettisoned, and the interests of adults prioritised. A father provides far more to his child than a glob of genetic material: he provides history, a sense of self and identity, social and racial connections and personality; all this is denied a donor insemination child,
I really want to have children – I told my mother this week that I’ll probably have to resort to a sperm bank, get artificially inseminated and have a child out of wedlock. She didn’t say, ‘Are you mad?’ She just said, ‘Being a single mother is a big responsibility – think about it’. I don’t care – if I want to have a child, I’ll do it whether I’m married or not (Shetty, 2007).
Single motherhood by choice would not be possible without the support of governments which introduce laws permitting sperm donors to remain anonymous and children to remain fatherless; this form of parenting is a construct of the state, and a further device by governments to dismantle the family by removing responsibilities from fathers and rights from children. Despite the overwhelming evidence that fathers are indispensable in their children’s lives, there is a powerful political lobby, led by single parent activists like Gingerbread and Mumsnet, denying this and working towards fathers’ exclusion. The deep damage caused by fatherlessness contradicts the liberal political consensus that fathers are an optional accessory, inessential to a child’s development. Fathers are a nuisance, who won’t go along with the group-think, who won’t pay their child support as they are supposed to, who won’t abandon their preposterous demands to be involved in the lives of their children. If there is any detriment to bringing up a child without a father, the belief is that it can be assuaged through the welfare system and ever more liberal state hand-outs. Forcibly to remove a father, in the group mind of the political intelligentsia, can do no harm.
In 2007 a local authority took a mother to court who wanted to keep the birth of a child (Baby E) secret from her parents and from the child’s father; although the mother wanted to release the child for adoption, the local authority believed – in accordance with the Children Act – that her family and the father should be given the opportunity to bring up the child (Bowcott, 2007). The county court agreed, and the mother went to appeal. Mary Arden, Mathew Thorpe and Lawrence Collins ruled the father could neither be identified nor informed, and the child could not be introduced to her grandparents (Re C (A Child) and XYZ County Council & E.C., 2007). Parenting groups were unanimous in their condemnation; Michael Cox of Fathers4Justice said,
This father is the victim of a wicked deceit in which the state has been complicit. It is now clear that the Government believes children have no entitlement to a relationship with their fathers and that children are the property of their mothers and of the state.
What caused most outrage in equal parenting circles was Thorpe’s blunt statement that the father’s rights could not be violated as ‘he has no rights’. Fathers correctly pointed out that had the mother been willing to identify the father he would have been pursued mercilessly for child support. The angriest response came from those adults who had themselves been brought up in ignorance of their fathers, and who have subsequently been unable to trace them; they described a huge void in their lives, and life-long confusion about their identity. The donor-conceived David Gollancz wrote from personal experience when he said that children brought up in deliberate ignorance of their ‘story’ were,
flotsam: mere accidental concatenations of unaccountable desires and meaningless memories floating in the random currents of experience without context (Gollancz, 2007).
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