By Robert Whiston FRSA 17th Aug 2010
In the last decade New Labour and Whitehall departments have flunked one chance after another to grasp a series of important nettles and ducked making critical choices.
Paradoxically, the agenda items New Labour and Whitehall did manage to initiate, namely civil liberties and the human rights of the individual were almost immediately swept away in the name of anti-terrorism.
The erosion of civil liberties and the philosophical rights of the individual were ignored in the Blair Years but we have to acknowledge that the descent into state censorship began many years before.
In part it has to be conceded that New Labour was simply building on the failures of previous administrations. Both New Labour and the Conservative party in the preceding years felt limited by what Whitehall advisors claimed was possible, indeed was essential.
We can only hope that the new Coalition government of Cameron and Clegg remains radical and does not allow itself to be devoured by a bamboozling civil service notorious for its reluctance to embrace change. The Coalition has to grasp that its Treasury policy and recovery plans are at the mercy of social reforms principally divorce.
The new Coalition has started its reform of social policies in a promising manner with the surprise announcement of anonymity for those accused rape and a review of the family justice system (a euphemism for divorce and child custody), which was already creaking at the joints 10 years ago.
But promising signs for a radical review of social policies are already melting away. Already Number 10 is said to be back-peddling on the long standing issue of anonymity of rape defendants and the omens look dismal for the Family Justice Review.
The same cold, clammy hand that blighted so many earlier initiatives for family reform has re-emerged. The same “trusted” names, so beloved of the mandarins, have resurfaced on the new family review committee. Not renowned for being imaginative, radical or dynamic they are a ‘safe pair of hands’. From these hand picked delegates we should expect only endorsements of earlier failed policies. The review members will be content to settle for another series of tinkering at the peripheries.
Nowhere is the lack of reform so blatant and yet most pressing, than in the Family Courts which hold their hearings behind locked doors. These Stalinist courts do not allow public and press access. Secret courts are, by definition, beyond scrutiny.
Consequently, nowhere have the serial failures been so grotesquely exposed as in the divorce courts. Before the Children Act 1989, all courts were reluctant to intervene into family affairs and most cautious in challenging a father’s right of guardianship toward his child. Today, courts intervene at the proverbial ‘drop of a hat’.
When the Children Act 1989, became effective (in 1991), fathers found that they were ‘no longer the legal guardians of their own legitimate children’. What the Act did bestow was Parental Responsibility (PR) to non-fathers, ie unmarreid men who fathered a child. They could now attain, as could legitimately married fathers, PR (some trade off ! ).
Fathers had never been guardians of their illegitimate children but their pre-history status as the legal guardian of their own children was actually abolished by the Act.
This meant that the de fault position was that ‘the state’ could treat the legitimate child in a divorce as if it was a fatherless orphan and dictate what should happen to him/her with a frightening new impunity.
Whitehall’s family policy makers, therefore, were placing themselves, and the agencies they designated, in the position of family administrators and final arbiters –all within a regime that was secret, where ‘gagging orders’ and Press suppression were routinely invoked.
Whitehall failed to fully appreciate their new position. They didn’t realise they actually had to make a decision, choose to manage change or have change thrust upon them.
We hear a lot about ‘joined up government’ but this link between the recovery out of recession and fatherhood has escaped the attention of all the political parties.
The Children Act 1989 was cobbled together in the aftermath of the Cleveland abuse scandal and amid bogus claims of satanic sex rituals. It was designed for public law cases where it is in the “public interest” for local authorities to step in to protect a child from abuse, starvation and neglect etc. (the number of children “taken into care” has been constant over the last 10 years, i.e. static. In 2007 it was 60,300).
Very little of the Act is pertinent to divorce, which are known as private law, yet it is used far more often in divorce cases than in child protection cases, i.e. public law.
Both public and private law cases are handled by CAFCASS. In 2004 – 05, for instance, it received a total of 30,813 ‘private law’ requests compared with 2,429 adoption cases and 564 ‘child care’ cases, i.e. ‘public law’(also for 2004 – 05).
By 2008, with divorce numbers falling slightly, the number of private law cases, i.e. divorce, was 24,926 and 2,743 for public law.
For over 20 years successive Whitehall policy makers have refused to countenance substantive change and resisted all other alternatives to managing the situation. They refuse to distinguish, by failing to enact separate legislation, between private law for divorce, where amicable arrangements can be made, and public law covering ‘enforced’ adoption and ‘criminal’ parental neglect.
This refusal to distinguish is the single biggest frustration experienced by all fathers’ rights groups (and there are many). Traditionally, Whitehallpolicy makers have been both ‘in denial’ while adopting a dismissive attitude towards the problems. After one particularly exasperating meeting where departmental sandbagging and stonewalling was much in evidence radicalisation one wing and Fathers-4-Justice was born.
This immediately led to a series of ‘direct action’ events staged all over the country, bringing motorway traffic and rush hour commuters to a halt. The response to ‘direct action’ saw ministers and parliamentarians feigned shock and surprise that some ‘small group’ should see fit to hold the country to ransom by protest actions.
The fact that these were the actions of “disenfranchised” working class men was not recognised or thought noteworthy in official circles, or by the media. The truely unrepresentative group is ministers and parliamentarians who persist in pretending they know nothing of the situation.
There is not one family in this country of 20 million households untouched by divorce in some way; everyone knows something of divorce. Divorce no longer a minority sport which most can be avoided by careful planning.
Since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 there have been in excess of 5 million divorces (5,600,000), which have entailed well over 11 million adults (11,200,000).
With divorce inevitably comes the question of child custody. There are thousands of children affected by divorce every year. A rough rule of thumb is that if there are approx. 140,000 divorces every year, then there are approx. 100,000 children affected by divorces.
The same Divorce Reform Act 1969 has, over the years, produced approx. 4 million ‘orphans’ – children who think their fathers has been taken away by the courts. Government White papers have long accepted that 40% or 1,600,000 children, lose contact with, or never again see their fathers.
In addition, the number of welfare-dependent-mothers with children grows steadily at approx. 100,000 new children per annum. What used to be termed illegitimate births totalled 305,000 in 2007 alone (some in this second group will be children of cohabitees and have a Dad). Cumulatively, the number of children excluded from the ‘socialising’ effect of having a father quickly expands to over 5 million.
The by-product of this state-owned orphan industry is familyless-and-childless fathers who have been de-coupled by custody laws from mainstream society and no longer have an investment in its success. They live in a parallel demi monde – society’s underbelly.
Custody has become a new Black Death spread by Family Courts. It snatches fathers away from their children and children away for their fathers. In around 40% of cases the child-father bond is broken after divorce. Sometimes that bond is it never rebuilt – sometimes it is only rebuilt when the child is an adult (see BBC TV series “Long Lost Families” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13142174).
It is the challenge of the Coalition to re-couple and re-engage these fathers with society if recovery with cuts is to be successful. If these same fathers were from a minority group, say the disabled or any of the ethnic minorities, would Whitehall be disinterested ? Would they be ridiculed and sidelined ?
Never has marital status been so important to the nation’s GDP. In times of economic strictures easy divorce and its attendant costs, e.g. CSA, housing, legal aid, CAFCASS, are expensive luxuries – something noted as long ago as Jonathan Swift and the misery suffered by John Milton (re: ‘Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce’, 1643, and ‘Areopagitica’, 1644).
As long ago as the mid-1970s (George Gilder), it was realised that married men were more productive and greater wealth creators than either single men or women – and all 3 groups were more efficient wealth creators then married women (“Sexual Suicide” and “Men and Marriage”). He pinpointed poverty as being located in households where no father was present. He demonstrated that the father and the married couple were the engine of a nation’s wealth creation. This was amplified by Daniel Amneus’s “The Garbage Generation” (1990).
However, Amneus overlaid Gilder’s ‘crucial process of civilization’ with what he termed the Sexual Constitution of monogamous marriage, sexual regulation, the legitimacy principle and one where the double standards and female loyalty and chastity become essential to civilisation’s survival.
The income differentials, or ratios, were still apparent and in force in the 1990s when Patricia Hewitt MP wrote “Social Justice, Children and Families” (IPPR pamphlet 1993) which she no doubted hoped would make the case for increasing women’s wages but instead underscored Gilder and Amneus.
If we standardise the income or wealth creating potential of both single men and women at 1.0, and data supports this, we find that married women have an equivalent rating of 0.7 but the married men has a rating of 1.7. But we can’t talk about this economic advantage in today’s self-censored society. We can’t say that employing more married men, rather than, say, single women, will lead to greater riches for the state and an enhanced standard of living for the family he heads.
We have only to look increases in child poverty over the past decade (UNICEF), and the tired income redistribution in all things model to see its not working.
Ruth Deech, once known in the 1960s as a wrecker of the support systems of society, i.e. the family, has woken up to its consequences.
Reforms that advantage a few are no reform at all.
She is now busily shaping up to take over the mantle of the late Baroness Young in opposing radical but ill-thought out social reforms such as equal rights for cohabitees.
In a 1995 pamphlet “Divorce Dissent” (pub’d CPS), she spelt out how the Law Commission, of which she was once a proud member, deliberately quoted misleading statistics to win the argument for change. Ruth Beech calculated that at the time (1995), some 3.6 million adults had been divorced in the last ten years alone, i.e. from 1986 to 1995. Her total did not include 2nd marriages that ended in divorce. She put the figure for children caught up in those divorce at 1.6 million – some of them twice as a result of a re-marriage failing.
In her new crusade to stem the tide of greater cohabitation, she is probably not aware of the economic implications set out by Gilder and Amneus, namely 0.7, 1.0 and 1.7. The married man is the only true engine of wealth creation – why systematically destroy him ?
A nation must be deemed reckless if it throws away the proven key to its economic recovery,
Historically, the authorities in the 20th century have always been timid and reacted unimaginatively towards opportunities to replace a paradigm that clearly isn’t working.
The task of the new Coalition is whether they are able to measure up to the new challenges, take advantage of the opportunities that accompany them and so meet our expectations ?