IN THE future perhaps the only proudly traditional families left in Britain will be those of politicians, using their wives and children as props. Jon Cruddas, a prominent Labour Party strategist, says that “stable, secure families” are the “bedrock of our lives”. According to Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative welfare secretary, the last government “cloaked neglect of the family under the veil of neutrality.” The prime minister wants to encourage marriage through a tax break. Yet society is changing beneath the politicians’ feet.
Since the 1980s the number of marriages has collapsed to Victorian levels. Divorces have climbed from 16,000 per year in 1945 to over 117,000 per year now. In 2011 the proportion of children born out of wedlock reached 47%, up from around a fifth in the 1980s. Birth rates and family sizes are well below their 1960s peaks. As Spencer Thompson of IPPR, a think-tank, puts it: “The two-parent, male-breadwinner family is basically extinct.”