Rewriting ‘child poverty’ (1 of 2)

by Robert Whiston

The poor will always be with us” to paraphrase a passage from St Matthew’s gospel. This sadly is the realistic if brutal assessment of life and of all societies throughout history.

For as long as mankind has organised itself in civilisations there have always been the rich and wealthy rubbing shoulders with the poor.

What can and should be addressed are the absolute levels of poverty ? This is what the present as well as previous governments have attempted to alleviate. Indeed, in a free market economy, is it a legitimate function of government ?

In Nov 2012 a ‘Public Consultation’ was begun by the DWP  [1] into the subject of  child poverty and the proper way of measuring  it. During that summer the Government had announced it would consult on developing better measures of child poverty which would include not just family incomes but material deprivation, worklessness, unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, access to quality education, parental health and family stability.

These are now termed “multi-dimensional” measures by the Civil Service (as compared with the income focused DWP report, “Measuring child poverty”, 2003 ( http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/final-conclusions.pdf). In so doing it was hoped that the present 2012 Green Paper would provide, post 2013, results of a more accurate nature regarding the reality of child poverty.

Child poverty is not without significant financial costs to the tax-payer in any welfare state. The benefits claimed by low-income families and non-family units, i.e. lone mothers or SMHs, is the veil hiding child poverty:

  • “Between 2005 and 2009 (the years when the child poverty rate remained broadly flat) the Government spent over £300 billion in working-age welfare and tax credits . .. . . In 2009/10 alone, £90 billion was paid out in welfare payments to working-age people and their families – the same spend as the entire education budget.”

 In times of economic recession and with austerity polices in place it makes sense to see what can be trimmed and how from such an inflated budget.

Revolutionary

In a “ . . the emperor has no clothes . . “ moment, it has dawned on the intelligentsia that conventional economic theory with its equilibrium graphs of  supply, demand and price, is missing a vital component namely that of banks and the role they play in supply and demand.

This fatal omission is only now coming to light as orthodox economic theories fail to get the economies of the West moving once again.

Supply_demandLeft: Orthodox economic theory: The price P of a product is determined by a balance between production at each price (supply S) and the desires of those with purchasing power at each price (demand D). The diagram shows a positive shift in demand from D1 to D2, resulting in an increase in price (P) and quantity sold (Q) of the product. But no where are banks, money supply and or credit mentioned.

Similarly, previous papers on poverty and living standards etc, have all contained the fatal omission of the father and the married man who are recognised in all other academic endeavours as being the “engines of wealth creation”.

Therefore the present DWP re-assessment of child poverty is surely the most far-reaching for its inclusion – even emphasis – of the role of fatherhood and family given by any modern government and its impact on families where they are included or excluded or missing for whatever reason. Previous Reports into child poverty totally omitted the “F”word – father – and ignored their influence on a family’s fortunes, ie ‘outcomes’.

As to why this is most significant one has to turn to the experiences of the Negro family in the USA.

In 1890, just 25 years after the end of the Civil War, 80% of black American households were headed by husbands and wives. In 1900, the percentage was mostly unchanged, and so it remained – between the high 70s and the low 80s – for 1910, 1920, 1930 for all the 10-yearly Census returns.[2]

However, all that changed in the Census of 1970, when it was fell to 64%. By the time of the 2000 Census, the percentage of black families headed by married couples had halved and was only 38%.

The same 2000 Census showed that only 69% of all American children were born into two-parent households compared to 65% for Hispanics and 77% for whites.

The received wisdom is that the advent of welfare payments during the 20th century gave rise to a ‘dependency culture’ and the qualifying requirements meant that a husband or male cohabitee was a bar to accessing these financial benefits. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), deployed in 1996, was preceded in America by ‘AFDC’ which dated from 1935. The unintended consequences of AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children),was that because the programme’s ‘aid’ was paid only to families with no father was living in the house it prompted low-income poor families to separate in order to qualify. [3]

Introduced as a basic benefit which was supposed to address poverty it actually made the problem of fatherless dependent children worse. Instead of driving down poverty it instead drove out the male partner thus lowering family incomes and promoted the double tragedy for children of social disintegration and accentuated class divisions.[4]

Watts_riots

Left: The Watts Riots of August 1965. Watts is a district in Los Angeles. A state and era also giving rise to the Black Panthers, an Afro-American organisation, circa 1967 to 1977.

With payments dependent on having no father present cogent intellectuals arguments had inadvertently incentivised the dispossession of many low-income fathers, mostly Black Americans. This left children to grow up without a father present and resulted in poorer outcomes, at school, behaviourally and at work.

As recently as 2011, Frank Field MP, in a BBC ‘Panorama’ programme came to the conclusion about modern fathers and child support, that; [5]

  •  “The benefits system and high unemployment rates among young men means that they can walk away from their partner and children.“

 However, one has to be careful not to ber too casual in the terminology – ‘walk away’ of pushed away by the family court system ?

From a 1834 “Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for inquiring into the Administration and Operation of the Relief of the Poor” (p. 170), we learn that the Commission found:

  • “The allowance made to the mother for the support of her child and secured to her by the parish in case of the putative father failing to pay the amount awarded is an encouragement to the offence it places such women in a better situation than many married women whatever may be the number of children.”  – Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for inquiring into the Administration and Operation of the Relief of the Poor (1834), p 170 

Recent past

Child poverty as a stand-alone agenda item was on the political radar as early as the 1990s when figures, released by the DWP (Dept. for Work and Pensions), showed that for the first time since Tony Blair arrived in Downing Street in 1997 the number of children in poverty has gone up. This despite Labour pledges to halve the figure and even using the Government’s favoured measure. One of Labour’s key promises at the 1997 General Election was to halve child poverty by 2011. Persistent slippages prompted in turn a National Strategy, a Child Poverty Strategy, and even a Child Poverty Bill

  • In 1997, there were 3.4 million children in families whose income was below 60% of the median income – the mid-point on the scale of wealth – before they paid the cost of their housing.[6]
  • By 2005 the number of children living in poverty had fallen to 2.7 million as Labour’s tax credit benefits system poured billions of pounds into encouraging single mothers to take jobs.
  • One year later, in 2006, however, that figure rose again to 2.8 million. The increase meant that the 1.7 million level that was Labour’s target, and was to have been achieved in 2011, looked well beyond its reach.
  • By 2004 the Government’s revised target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 was also likely to be missed unless at least another £6.8bn was spent said campaigners.

So while we all very much welcome the present government’s announcement to tackle child (and thereby household) poverty, which we see as positive, we doubt if the Consultation process, or any steps thereafter, will signal a quote; “ending to child poverty.” Indeed, in a time of austerity can we economically afford to eliminate it by government subsidies ?

Where we are all in lock-step with government of all hues is the need to better understand and define what is poverty and what are the realities of those who experience it.

There may be others who know the remedy and can see clearly the path ahead but our attitude is that no one a single remedy or path will achieve a cure for the dozens of policy decisions that have brought us to this pretty pass.

Without doubt the greatest single failing of the last decade has been the lack of “social mobility” which has ground to a halt. One only has to compare the impact “Assisted Places” had during the Thatcher era.

There are commentators well qualified to steer government in the direction of a).  a better measurement of child poverty and b). a more accurate picture of child poverty, but it is the first that we believe should be the focus because to measure something one has to first define.

The problems with child poverty are not related simply to the multi-dimensional aspects noted above but are embedded in historical ones as well. This historical context has been all but ignored by mainstream policies makers for over 50 years.

Historical context

It was George Gilder, in the 1970s and the 1980s who first pinpointed poverty as located in primarily in households where no father was present. He brought it to the attention of the mass media and demonstrated that the father and the married couple were the engine of a nation’s wealth creation.

However, it was Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who 10 years earlier, in Jan 1964, had lent his intellectual and political weight to these conclusions (ref. ‘War on Poverty’ and ‘The Great Society’).

Moynihan_Left: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Dem)

Moynihan (b. 1927 – d. 2003), specialised in family and welfare policies and was never far from controversy. He co-wrote a controversial report ‘The Negro Family’ better known as the ‘Moynihan Report’, which attributed the educational problems of African-Americans to the instability of urban African-American families. His research team took inspiration from the book ‘Slavery’ written by Stanley Elkins who contended that slavery had made black Americans dependent on the dominant society, and that their dependence still existed a century later. In the words of S. Craig Watkins:

  • The report concluded that the structure of family life in the black community constituted a ‘tangle of pathology…capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world,’ and that ‘at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.’ Further, the report argued that the matriarchal structure of black culture weakened the ability of black men to function as authority figures. This particular notion of black familial life has become a widespread, if not dominant, paradigm for comprehending the social and economic disintegration of late twentieth-century black urban life. (pp.218-219).

Such an assessment can never hope to be comprehensive and timeless but as a product of its time and reflecting the uniqueness of US social and cultural values, it was ground braking and many elements are as valid today as they were 50 years ago.

UNICEF ranking

Forty years later, in 2007, a study released by UNICEF ranking the top 21 wealthiest countries in the world showed the United States rated as the second worst ranking (20 out of 21), in terms of their children’s well-being.[7]  The United States also received the second worst ranking (20 out of 21), citing divorce and the number of children being raised in single-parent households as major risk factors.

Some 24 million children in the United States now live without one of their biological parents. Virtually every social pathology of our time – from violent crime to substance abuse to truancy – correlates more strongly to fatherless homes than to any other single factor, surpassing poverty and race.

Britain did no better. In 2007 a UNICEF report branded the UK as the worst country in the developed world in terms of children’s sense of their own well-being. The Children’s Commissioner, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, warned of a “crisis at the heart of our society” in the way children are treated by adults. But that is not the complete answer – it is more to do, we feel, with the way the state treats adults and parents in particular. [8]

Anastasia de Waal, of the think-tank Civitas, shared our assessment. She said in 2007 that “ . . . we rank so poorly as a rich welfare state [and the worlds fourth biggest trading nation] is an indictment of Government policy.

For his part the Children’s Commissioner devised a plan entitled “11 Million” (a reference to the number of children in England) and selected youth justice, anti-social behaviour, asylum and trafficking, mental health and enjoying education as the key issues facing young people. In other words, serious social problems that ‘New Labour’ wasn’t addressing.” [9] Perhaps this was the foundation of the 2012 “multi-dimensional” measure of child poverty.

From 1998 to 2010 the British government policy has been compromised by a cabinet that has been divided against itself over the value of marriage as a concept. A headline in the Daily Telegraph of March 11th 2002 read, “Marriage too risky for Cabinet to support”.

Such uncertainty has meant no policy endorsing family formation and thus a fall in the birth rate has not only been induced but then left unaddressed. Only now are the ramifications and collateral damage being comprehended re: pensions, old age care, curtailment of consumerism, low economic demand etc. This realisation has burst upon some politicians as if they were discovering their own puberty.

Spurred on by the bleak assessment of childhood poverty, ministers in 2007 produced a ten-year Children’s Plan aimed at improving children’s lives and preventing problems before they arise. This brings us to the present day revamping of 2012 to improve UK child poverty.

Both the Clinton and Bush administrations devised programmes to “promote fatherhood” and “healthy marriage” which were of questionable merit. If some in the US have criticised these US responses as being too “weak” or open to the charge of “throwing money at the problem”  at least the US did try. In the UK the problem of excluded fathers was not even recognised until 2012.

The Monetary Problem

Having outlined the historical background and the past political promises it is appropriate to deal with contemporary issues.

For far too long the focus of policies has been almost exclusively on the ‘income’ aspect of problem. The result of this created poverty as a ‘moveable feast’. By closely linking it to 60% of ‘average’ or median earnings the elimination of poverty was by its very definition going to be impossible to achieve.

Why 60% was chosen and why a percentage of median earnings were chosen is another story that will have to wait for another day. Surely it would make more sense to set something in stone and for it to be objectively measured, e.g. the minimum wage which is set at, say, £6.50 rather then 25% of average earnings.

DWP statistics show that the median (average) household income of the population is £419 a week, and for a couple with two children aged between 5 and 14 equates to £641 per week (page 19).

The fact is that all 4 measures used to measure poverty in government circles were based on one of these criterion:

  1. Relative income: household income less than 60% of current median income
  2. Combined low-income and material deprivation: children who experience material deprivation and live in households with incomes less than 70% of current median income
  3. Absolute income: household income less than 60% of 2010/11 median income adjusted for prices, and,
  4. Persistent poverty: household income less than 60% of current median income for at least three out of the previous four years.

The 2012 Green Paper breaks with that tradition and asks whether alternative criteria should not be used. It points out that June 2012 figures actually showed that 300,000 fewer children were recorded as being in ‘relative income poverty’ but that this was a function of a downturn in economy, not any enhancement in their position (page 19).

The disadvantage with the historical way of assessing poverty is that, firstly, it does not incentivise those who are unemployed or are under-employed. Those on benefits or low incomes; are lulled into believing that they can always get a ‘top-up’ from government or will qualify for additional state benefits.

Secondly, it acts as a disincentives and demoralises those on low incomes who work a 40 hour week in full employment or have two part-time jobs. Such people see what they perceived as the stay-at-home “work shy” actually ending each week with more disposable income than they have after working for over 40 hours.

Thirdly, this behaviour is wasteful not only of scarce government revenues but of human capital.

The Reasons

One then has to ask ‘Why are low incomes still so widespread ?’ Is it linked with ‘globalisation’ and simply poor education levels ?

Certainly the way the UK earns a living has changed from foundries, factories and tangible exports of 30 years ago, to one of call centres and what used to be termed ‘invisibles’ i.e. insurance and banking.

What is now revealed is that real incomes in the West have been suppressed with no increase in actual purchasing power since the year 2000. Inflation and commodity/food price increases have offset any nominal gains.

As if predicting the fall and decline of the welfare state in the West acclaimed welfare reform, Charles Murray proposed in 2006 abolishing all welfare schemes and instead giving every adult in the country a flat £6,000 a year – bankers, single parents, college dropouts and pensioners get the same.

With the banking collapse, post 2008, and the drying up of consumer lead demand plus the sucking out of jobs to the Far East an intellectual framework to avoid ‘welfare traps’ is desperately needed. [10]

‘Welfare traps’ can be likened to a spiral into squalor and one of the most infamous is at Easterhouse in Glasgow (Scotland). By 2006 Glasgow’s schemes stood out on a world scale because so much has been spent to alleviate poverty but with calamitous results. The cash, meant to end poverty, instead created jobless, drug-infested ghettos with dire life expectancy.

Charles Murray believed that while the middle class can afford to be ‘liberal’ about family break-up with resultant  lone parents usually having the money and family support needed, this trend (i.e. divorce) for the working class is wreaking catastrophic damage on the poorest reaches of society (the Green Paper states page 40, that 15% of couple households moved into “persistent income poverty” as a result of family breakdown).

Twenty years prior Murray, an academic, was hired to monitor US government benefit schemes proved a theory which sounded incredible: welfare was making poverty worse. Welfare payments were made in the main to divorced and never-wed mothers. This was a discovery which changed the way America looked at poverty and provoked numerous attacks by left-wing academics who commissioned studies to prove him wrong, only to find him right.

Fathers groups were trying to alert government of these very matters several years before. For instance, in June 2000 a letter was sent to Bridget Ogden of the CAFCASS Project Team, Lord Chancellor’s Dept stating:

  • “We are, if nothing else, concerned with children. We are concerned with how they cope with divorce and or separation; losing one, or both, parents; going through the trauma of court and being interviewed by well-meaning but nonetheless total strangers for reasons they don’t (and can’t) fully comprehend.  We are concerned with their quality of life, the poverty they may fall into after separation; their low educational achievement, poor school attendance, criminality, and, in the case of girls, their early pregnancy out-of-wedlock, which is so vexing the Gov’t at present.” – 20/06/00, letter to Mrs. Bridget Ogden, CAFCASS Project Team, Lord Chancellor’s Dept.

Defenders of no-fault divorce were once keen to point out that a woman bringing up a family on their own was nothing new. The death of the main ‘bread winner’ in the Victorian era, they claimed, once plunged 40% of families into poverty and that today it was equally no-fault divorce that jeopardises plunging 40% of families into unexpected poverty. In other words the same proportion, just a different reason.

Changes in the 2012 paper

Having followed for many years the key trends associated with “worklessness” and poverty, i.e. unemployment, duration of unemployment, marital status, housing type, number of dependent children aged under 16, the cost of benefits on the low-income earner etc, it seemed Whitehall would never acknowledge or tackle these realities.

But surprisingly the 2012 Paper has broken with the past and has recognised that currently around 3.9 million workless households in the UK – that is almost one in five of all households.

  • “Since 1996, the number of UK households where no-one has ever worked has more than doubled from 132,000 to 297,000 – ie 1.4% of all households”
  • “There are 1.8 million children living in workless households.”

 And for the first time ‘fathers’ feature as part of the solution and not part of the problem. Married couples are still despite media coverage, the preeminent family household type.

Additionally, other family factors are taken into account as impinging on child poverty. The paper lists these as including:

  1. Between 250,000 and 350,000 children in Great Britain have parents who are problem drug users.
  2. 22% of under 16 year olds in the UK (over 2.5 million children) live with a hazardous drinker (a hazardous drinking is defined as a pattern that increases the risk of harmful consequences to the user or others).
  3. 4% of under 16 year olds in the UK (approximately half a million children) live with a problem drinker who also has a coexisting mental health condition.

And at page 13 there was a recognition that increasing education attainment is by itself not enough and that the amount of both ‘basic’ and ‘higher’ level job skills in the economy, ie the more manual and less cerebral, needed to be addressed urgently.

Thus there was the recognition that there was a danger of leaving or overlooking a rump of lowly educated or unemployable young people who would persistently be claiming benefits.

Putting talents people in the right jobs to increase productivity and innovation is, by comparison, a much easier aim (page 13).

Interestingly, a Money Saving Expert poll, in 2012, found that 62% of respondents thought that having a family income below the relative poverty line does not count as poverty – which would seem to indicate either other factors creating poverty or an income floor set much lower. One suggested solution is to have an objective measure based on a ‘basket of commodities’ rather than a percentage of income.

On a brighter side, whereas there was once 2 million children in 2000 currently growing up in families where no one works this had declined to 1.75 million children by 2012. [11]

However, 55% of children in workless families are in the bottom 20% of incomes (the bottom 10% – the real poverty – is again omitted from Gov’t papers),

‘Eurostats’, an EU wide collation of comparable national data indicates that in 2011 about 11% of children, in the EU-2542 population category, lived in workless households. But in the UK the proportion was 17% and was the second highest.

We get only a glimpse of the bottom 10% of incomes (on page 32), where it states that there is evidence for wage persistence. If a worker begins his/her career in a low-paying job, he/she is very likely to stay in a low-paying job. [12] Data showed that 60% of the bottom 10% of earners in 2001/02 were among the bottom 30% of earners in 2008/09.

It has been unfashionable for over 2 decades and an excuse to launch sexist criticisms to suggest the very non-PC idea that male employment should take priority. Yet the 2012 Paper bravely highlights that:

  • “boys who grow up in workless households are up to 25% more likely to be unemployed as adults than boys whose fathers were in work as they grew up.”

Since mothers and single unwed mothers represent only a minority of the unemployed workforce it is clear that father unemployment among married and cohabiting couples must take precedence to stave of a rising number of the next generation also being welfare dependents.

For many years the magic number for working single mothers (inc. divorcees) was 16 hours. At that level they still were able to claim basic benefits and retain the wage to boost their incomes. However, the Green Paper points out that almost 25% children living in lone parent families (where the parent worked less than 16 hours a week) experienced ‘persistent overcrowding’. This compares with only 10% of children where the lone parent worked 16 hours or more.

In addition, 10% of all children in ‘couple families’, where both parents worked less than 16 hours a week, experienced inadequate heating on a persistent basis, compared with just 2% of children in couple families where at least one parent worked at least 16 hours a week (page 31).

The Missing Fathers

Fifty percent of the adult population – fathers – has been systematically marginalized, pushed away and penalized from having any meaningful, on-going relationship and care with their children.

This has been society’s choice, not theirs. Yet they are expected to continue funding a regime that is hostile to them and persecutes them in every conceivable way.

There are simply no incentives to encourage men and fathers back into families or to take a responsible stance towards families because they know they will be penalised – economically and emotionally – for doing so.

It is interesting to note that former New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (a billionaire divorced dad and founder of “Bloombergs”), said in Aug 2007 that “unwed fathers increase poverty and the government should take steps to get them back with their families.” [13] It was part of a speech outlining his prescription for fighting poverty in which he said:

  • “Fathers have been missing from the table.
  • We have to do more to connect fathers to jobs and to their families.”

Bloomberg, who knows a thing a two about financial matters, said that welfare reform in the 1990’s was driven largely by pushing single poor mothers into the workforce, but that:

  • “. . .  to further reduce poverty, government must now turn its attention to fathers by withholding tax refunds from those who don’t pay child support and increasing tax credits for low-income parents.”

Unfortunately, in the UK Gordon Brown as Chancellor long ago abolished any tax concession for payments to spouses of children. Tax credits have never been available to fathers and under Labour all state benefits an only be paid to mothers, never men.

Bloomberg’s vision would see  a broadening of  eligibility for the ‘earned income tax credit’ (termed  EITC in the US), and the mayor would make more single tax filers eligible for the credit, raising the income ceiling for the credit from $12,000 a year to $18,000 (politicians in the UK have yet to become this visionary !).

Further, he also called for an end to the so-called “marriage penalty” for the credit, which offers less money to married people than single parents (there are parallels here with the UK regimen of welfare benefits). Making those changes, Bloomberg argues, would push more low-income fathers back to their families, resulting in less poverty.

The logic is overwhelming – all that is required, and here is the rub, is a break with the received wisdom, the conventional orthodoxy.

The Gillard effect

In contrast to the enlightened approach of Bloomberg we see in Australia a resumption of oppression. Despite the 2006 liberalisation of child custody laws. Hundreds of parents, both fathers and mothers, are still fleeing overseas owing millions of dollars in child support. [14]

Rudd_gillard-illoIn total there are 22,529 [Australian] parents living overseas collectively owing $142.2 million in child support, with most in the UK, New Zealand and the US.

Following the 2006 changes, 2008 saw a sharp rise with 14,000 parents dodging $97 million by living overseas. The use of the controversial ‘Department Prohibition Orders’ issued against those not paying CS has recently been curtailed with 1,351 of the orders issued in the two years to July 2009 (and in the past financial year, 2010, only 183 departure prohibition rulings were made).

More pointedly this also reflects is the world-wide economic downturn. Departure Prohibition Orders totaled only 80 new cases in 2007-08 and 121 new orders in 2008-09. Family law experts have linked the rise to the soaring costs of living, economic uncertainty and increasingly bitter custody disputes. [15]  Peter Magee head of Armstrong Legal, said this was particularly the case among wealthy separated parents relying on overseas income who were now struggling:

  • “I have been involved in cases where someone has entered into a child support agreement during prosperous times but then times change and the $25,000 a month the mother wanted is no longer possible.”

Meanwhile, Dads for Kids spokesman, Warwick Marsh, said anticipation of the review of the 2006 shared parenting laws might have influenced courts to become more active against fathers, adding:

  • “It is strange because divorces have been going down but it is sad that the worst cases are going up.” [16]

The Child Support Registrar “grounded” 471 parents last financial year – up from 294 in 2010/11 and 183 the year before. Parents paid $4.2m in overdue child support to have the bans lifted. [17]

And just to contradict Gillard’s allegations and vitriol that shared parenting is dangerous, unworkable awkward, clumsy and clogging up the courts etc, etc, we learn that overall the average debt in child-support cases where both parents live in Australia has fallen from about $4,800 in July 2010 to about $4,600 in April 2011. [18]  This fall has prompted the Gillard government to declare it is “breaking the back of the problem” of parents neglecting their financial obligation to children – or is it a by-product of introducing ‘shared parenting’ ?

 

Unintended policy results

 Once, in the 1950’s, a ‘working man’ on average industrial wages would pay no income tax. Today that same working man probably pays 37% of his income in tax.

The same working man, whatever his actual weekly income, was enabled to have enough disposable income to feed a family. This, just in case a younger generation is reading this submission, was the ‘family wage’.  This meant that whatever station in life the husband held within society he was able to provide a roof, heating, food and the basics in life comparable to that station.

The Equal Pay Act, and subsequent attendant legislation, though laudable for many reasons, destroyed that regime and forced both parents to go out to work to maintain their Standard of Living (SOL).  Proposals such as those made by Bloomberg would be illegal and never see the light of day.

In a seemingly unrelated areas we find that if governments acts to facilitate, say, divorce and the population responds by divorcing in greater numbers, who is to blame for a). the higher number and b). the resulting wider level of poverty, in what should be an ever increasingly affluent society ?

Measures to rectify the level of long-term male unemployment were unpopular 20 years ago. To promote anything other than greater female participation in the labour market was politically incorrect. But the writing was on the wall as far back as 1991 and our responses to government showed the long-term male unemployment (running at doule and treble that of female unemployment) as an issued that had to be addressed.

Long-term male unemployment was persistently greater than that of women who could easily disappear from the labour market by being re-absorbed into the family household. Such an option is/was not available to men and fathers.

Male employment is characterised by the ability and preparedness to work long hours work in more physically dangerous environments in order to bring home a wage sufficient for his family’s needs, e.g. north see oil rigs, deep-sea trawlers etc.

Female employment is generally characterised by being more opportunistic and susceptible to social pressures and school timetables.

The above characteristics of male and female employment reflect the majority of the population and do not apply to high-flyers who might be expected to represent between 5% and 20% of the work force – and in any event would not be the subject of this poverty review.

Yet it is to this highly organised minority that legislation invariably panders. But just how critical is it for Society’s survival  in the present economic recession, to repeatedly put this minority above all others ?

 E N D

 


 

[1] DWP, Dept for Work and Pensions.
 
[2] “Poverty and the Father Factor”, by William Raspberry, The Washington Post, 1 August 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/31/AR2005073101075.html

[3] Receipt of AFDC  (Aid to Families with Dependant Children) is 1,700% more frequent among illegitimate children of never married mothers than among legitimate children raised by intact married couples. Source: Robert Rector, US Congress. [ AFDC – UK equiv. is Income Support]. http://www.house.gov/ways_means/humres/106cong/6-29-99/6-29rect.htm

[4] A similar result can be seen in the adoptionof the Finer Report during the 1970s in the UK

[5] “Feckless father cannot remember children’s names” BBC Panorama, 17 January 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9362000/9362089.stm

[7] It cited divorce and the number of children being raised in single-parent households (SMH) as major risk factors. http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=David+Bickford%3A+A+real+family-friendly+policy+all+politicians+should+support&articleId=3580b95b-afd5-4075-a4a8-8e8be62fdd67

[8]England ‘one of the worst places for children’, Daily Telegraph, May 17th  2007 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/05/17/nkids17.xml

[9] ‘British youngsters get worst deal, says UN’, By Sarah Womack, Daily Telegraph, 15/02/2007. Except for   Britain, Unicef found youngsters were better off overall in every other industrialised country, including less wealthy nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic. The UK lags behind in other areas, e.g.  the number of children living in relative poverty, vaccination rates etc. Broken families indicate lower household incomes and Unicef predicts by 2010 there will be more children living in a step-family than in their biological family, i.e. poverty in the UK set to increase http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/14/nteens14.xml

[10] “Poverty of thought condemns the poor”, by Fraser Nelson, Scotland on Sunday, 16 April 2006
http://news.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=576972006. See also “In Our Hands” by Charles Murray.

[11] Office for National Statistics (2012) “Working and Workless Households 2012” ONS Bulletin.

[12] Sissons, P. (2011) ‘The Hourlass and the Escalator: Labour market change and mobility’. The Work Foundation.

[13] Bloomberg: Unwed Fathers Boost Poverty, by DEVLIN BARRETT Associated Press Writer, Tuesday August 28, 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6881895,00.html

[14] “Parents owing welfare support flee overseas”, by Anna Caldwell,  The Courier-Mail,  April 24th  2011 http://www.news.com.au/money/money-matters/parents-owing-welfare-support-flee-overseas/story-e6frfmd9-1226044203878#ixzz2OPd1zU6v

[15] “Deadbeat parents try to fly the coop”  by Patrick Lion, The Daily Telegraph, Dec 29th 2011

[16] 187,000 or 25% of the 722,430 parents required to pay former partners child support failed to fulfill their obligations in 2010-11.

[17] “Hundreds of parents banned from overseas travel over unpaid child support”   by Natasha Bita, National Social Editor, News Limited Network, Oct 20th 2012

[18] “Dads owe less in child support” by Patricia Karvelas, The Australian, July 10, 2012

**

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Rewriting ‘child poverty’ (2 of 2)

By Robert Whiston FRSA

Child poverty: Rewriting the Rules

Ambitiously, Britain’s infant coalition Gov’t wants to  rewrite the rules when it comes to tackling  child poverty. But has it any idea of the full extent of the monster it is grappling with ?  Every government of whatever hue sets out at one time or another to find, kill or capture this Holy Grail of a scourge – all of them have ended in failure.

Launched on 15th November 2012, the government’s Green Paper (Consultation Paper) on combating child poverty  is no less ambitious than Blair’s vision that preceded it, or all the attempts that preceded the Blair government’s foray. November’s Green Paper opens with the following aims:

  • The Coalition Government is committed to ending child poverty. It recognises that to achieve this goal we must understand what it means to experience the reality of child poverty in the UK.
  • It is clear that we need to think differently about child poverty. The most recent child poverty statistics revealed a large reduction in the number of children living below the relative poverty threshold. – Nov 2012.

However, we should not immediately write-off this enterprise; it has some unique features that sets it apart from previous attempts. Significantly, it departs from the normal destined-to-fail attempts by recognising that low incomes alone are not the precursor to poverty. Secondly, it identified the past emphasis on “relative incomes” as being an error and asks whether ‘absolute income’ levels would perhaps be a better guide for action – especially when combined with “multidimensional measure of child poverty.” 

Men’s and fathers’ groups should be particularly proud that after 15 years of persistently pushing the point for certain key reforms, and being persistently discounted, they are all there in the Nov 2012 Green Paper. It accepts the following key tests to bring about reform, which no other government initiative to date has included, namely: 

  •  worklessness
  • family stability
  • family breakdown
  • fatherlessness
  • addiction
  • parental skill level
  • debt

Unless 3 of these, namely fatherlessness, family breakdown, and worklessness, are addressed as a priority the others in the above list cannot begin to be addressed. And if those cannot be addressed then the others in the fuller list which includes educational attainment and family incomes will also never be addressed satisfactorily  either.

To illustrate the level of difficulty now facing government in its attempts to rebalance society and right wrongs we need a perspective. We have to look at the situation in 2005 in the era before the world economy fell into a financial crisis and collapsed.

No better exemplar comes to mind than this offering by Elizabeth Warren, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School,written in 2006. In “Rewriting the Rules: Families, Money and Risk” she lays out the difficulties of unemployment and debt facing families when in theory there were plenty of jobs (globalisation had not taken its toll) and money was plentiful and easily accessible.

Pre-dating this by some years is an article by Australian, Alan Barron,  asking the same sort of question in 1999. He began his article by referring to  the growing divide between the work-rich families and the work-poor families. This will be mentioned in a little more detail under this précis which condenses only part of Elizabeth Warren’s article.

Rewriting the Rules: Families, Money and Risk

Elizabeth Warren is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law

at Harvard Law School. 

Taken from: SSRC Books series “Privatization of Risk”

Over the past generation, an economic transformation has taken place in the heart of the middle class family. The once-secure family that could count on hard work and fair play to keep it safe has been transformed by current economic risk and realities. Now a pink slip, a bad diagnosis, or a disappearing spouse can catapult a family from solidly middle class to newly poor in a few months.

The American family has been hit on every front. Rocked by rising prices for essentials and wages for men that have remained flat, middle class families have put both Mom and Dad into the workforce, a strategy that has left them working harder just to try to break even. Expenses for the basics have shot up, squeezing the family balance sheet so that even a small misstep can leave the family in crisis. The old financial rules have been rewritten by powerful corporate interests who see middle class families as the spoils of political influence.

The changes in the basic economic structure of the American family are staggering. In just one generation, millions of mothers have gone to work, so that the typical middle class household in America is no longer a one-earner family, with one parent in the workforce and one at home full-time. Instead, the majority of families with small children now have both parents rising at dawn to commute to jobs so that they can both pull in paychecks.

Many have debated the social implications of these changes, but few have looked at its economic impact. Today a fully employed male earns $41,670 per year. After adjusting for inflation, that is nearly $800 less than his counterpart of a generation ago. The only real increase in wages for a family has been the second paycheck added by a working mother.

With both adults in the workforce full-time, the family’s combined income is $73,770—a whopping 75% higher than the household income for the family in the early 1970s. But increasing family income by sending more people into the workforce has an overlooked side effect: family risk has risen as well.

Today’s families have budgeted to the limits of their new two-paycheck status. As a result, they have lost the parachute they once had in times of financial setback—a back-up earner who could go into the workforce if the primary earner (usually Dad) got laid off or was sick. This phenomenon, known as the added-worker effect, could buttress the safety net offered by unemployment insurance or disability insurance to help families weather bad times. But today, with all workers already going—and spending—flat out, there is no one left in reserve to step in during the tough times. Any disruption to family fortunes can no longer be made up with extra income from an otherwise-stay-at-home partner.

Income risk has shifted in other ways as well. As Jacob Hacker & Nigar  Nargis have shown, incomes today are less dependable, with the odds of a significant interruption double that of a generation ago. Moreover, the shift from one-income to two-income status has doubled the family’s risk of facing a period of unemployment. Of course, with two people in the workforce, the odds of income dropping to zero are less than for a one-income family. But for families where every penny of both paychecks is already fully committed to mortgage, health insurance, and other payments, then the loss of either paycheck can send them into a financial tailspin. With two workers, the odds that someone will be laid off so that the family can’t meet its bills have doubled in a single generation.

On the health front the family faces a host of new risks as well. Two jobs mean either Mom or Dad could be out of work from illness or injury, losing a substantial chunk of the family income. The new everyone-in-the-workforce family faces another risk as well. When there was one stay-at-home parent, a child’s serious illness or Grandma’s fall down the stairs was certainly bad news, but the main economic ramifications were the medical bills. Now, with both parents in the workforce, someone has to take off work—or hire help—in order to provide family care. At a time when hospitals are sending people home quicker-and-sicker, more nursing care falls directly on the family—and someone has to be home to administer it.

Even the economic risks of divorce have changed. A generation ago, divorce was an economic blow, but a non-working spouse usually took a job, bringing in new income to stay afloat. When today’s two-income family divorces, there is no one to take on a new job and produce new income to cover the rent and buy the groceries. The only change for a divorcing couple is that what they earn now has to cover several new expenses. Evidence mounts that both post-divorce women and post-divorce men are struggling to make ends meet as they try to support two households on the same combined income. A divorced woman with children, for example, is about three times more likely to file for bankruptcy than a man or woman, single or married, without children. And men who owe child support are about three times more likely to file for bankruptcy than men who don’t.

For single parents, the news is even worse, as they face all the difficulties of dual-income families: All income is budgeted, there is no one at home who can work if the primary earner loses a job or gets sick, and no one is around to take over if a child gets sick or an elderly parent needs help. They face all the same risks, but the one-parent-one-earner family is trying to make it on a lot less money, competing for housing, daycare, health insurance, and all the other goods and services. As one divorced, working mother put it, “With what my ex contributes and what I earn, I can just about match what a man can make, but I can’t match what a man and woman both working can make.” The two-parent families are struggling to swallow the risk, but their single-parent counterparts are choking. Does this mean that middle-class women should return to the home in order to reduce their families’ risk? Before jumping on that bandwagon, it is important to look at the expenses facing middle class families.

Why are so many moms in the workforce? For some it is the lure of a great job, but for millions more, it is the need for a paycheck, plain and simple. Incomes for men are flat at a time when expenses are rising sharply. Fully 80% of working mothers report that their main reason for working was to support their families. In short, families now put two people in the workforce to do what one could accomplish alone just a generation ago.

It would be convenient to blame the families and say that it is their lust for stuff that has gotten them into this mess. Indeed, there are those who do exactly that. Sociologist Robert Frank claims thatAmerica’s newfound “Luxury Fever” forces middle-class families “to finance their consumption increases largely by reduced savings and increased debt.” Others echo the theme. A book titled Affluenza sums it up: “The dogged pursuit for more” accounts for Americans’ “overload, debt, anxiety, and waste.” If Americans are out of money, it must be because they are over-consuming, buying junk they don’t really need.

Blaming the family supposes that we believe that families spend their money on things they don’t really need. Over-consumption is not about medical care or basic housing; it is, in the words of Juliet Schor, about “designer clothes, a microwave, restaurant meals, home and automobile air conditioning, and, of course, Michael Jordan’s ubiquitous athletic shoes, about which children and adults both display near-obsession.” And it isn’t about buying a few goodies with extra income; it is about going deep into debt to finance consumer purchases that sensible people could do without.

ODDLY – “the average family of four today spends 33 percent less on clothing than a similar family did in the early 1970s. Overseas manufacturing and discount shopping mean that today’s family is spending almost $1200 a year less than their parents spent to dress themselves.”

Consider food, another big target as families eat out more and buy designer water and exotic fruit. Today’s family of four is actually spending 23 percent less on food (at-home and restaurant eating combined) than its counterpart of a generation ago.

Appliances tell the same picture. Today’s families are spending 51 percent less on major appliances today than they were a generation ago.

So how much more do families spend on “home entertainment,” premium channels included? They spend 23 percent more—a whopping extra $180 annually. Computers add another $300 to the annual family budget. But even that increase looks a little different in the context of other spending. The extra money spent on cable, electronics, and computers is more than offset by families’ savings on major appliances and household furnishings alone.

The same balancing act holds true in other areas. The average family spends more on airline travel than it did a generation ago, but it spends less on dry cleaning. More on telephone services, but less on tobacco. More on pets, but less on carpets. And, when we add it all up, increases in one category are offset by decreases in another.

So where did their money go? It went to the basics. The real increases in family spending are for the items that make a family middle class and keep them safe (housing, health insurance), and that let them earn a living (transportation, child care and taxes).

Fixed costs for a family – which include; mortgages childcare, health insurances, vehicle costs and taxes, shot up from $22,300 for a single earner household in 1970 to over $55,600 by the early 2000’s for a two earner household. At the same time disposable income shrank from $19,560 for a single earner household in 1970 to $18,110 by the early 2000’s – but this was for a two earner household. Arguably, this is a reduction from $19,560 to somewhere in the region of $10,000.

With an income of $42,450 (all 1970s numbers are inflation adjusted), the average family from the early 1970s covered their basic mortgage expenses of $5,820, health insurance costs of $1,130 and car payments, maintenance, gas, and repairs of $5,640. Taxes claimed about 24% of their income, leaving them with $19,560 in discretionary income. That means they had about $1,500 a month to cover food, clothing, utilities, and anything else they might need—just about half of their income.

By 2004, the family budget looks very different. As noted earlier, while a man is making nearly $800 less than his counterpart a generation ago, his wife’s paycheck brings the family to a combined income that is $73,770—a 75% increase. But their expenses quickly reverse that bit of good financial news. Their annual mortgage payments are more than $10,500. If they have a child in elementary school who goes to daycare after school and in the summers, the family will spend $5,660. If their second child is a pre-schooler, the cost is even higher, $6,920 a year. With both people in the workforce, the family spends more than $8,000 a year on its two vehicles. Health insurance costs the family $1,970, and taxes now take 30 percent of the family’s money.

The bottom line: today’s median earning, median spending middle class family sends two people into the workforce, but at the end of the day they have about $1500 less for discretionary spending than their one-income counterparts of a generation ago.

What happens to the family that tries to get by on a single income in today’s economy? Their expenses would be a little lower because they can save on child care and taxes, and, if they are lucky enough to live close to shopping and other services, perhaps they can get by without a second car. But if they tried to live a normal, middle-class life in other ways—buy an average home, send their younger child to preschool, purchase health insurance, and so forth—they would be left with only $5,500 a year to cover all their other expenses. They would have to find a way to buy food, clothing, utilities, life insurance, furniture, appliances, and so on with less than $500 a month. The modern single-earner family trying to keep up an average lifestyle faces a 72 percent drop in discretionary income compared with its one-income counterpart of a generation ago.

data suggests = = But the biggest change has been on the risk front. In the early 1970s, if any calamity came along, the family had nearly half its income in discretionary spending. Of course, people need to eat and turn on the lights, but the other expenses—clothing, furniture, appliances, restaurant meals, vacations, entertainment and pretty much everything else—can be drastically reduced or even cut out entirely. In other words, they didn’t need as much money if something went wrong. If they could find a way through unemployment insurance, savings or putting their stay-at-home parent to work, they could cover the basics on just 50% of their previous earnings. Because of the option of a second paycheck, both could stay in the workforce for a few months once the crisis had passed, and pull out of their financial hole.

But today’s family is in a very different position. Fully 75 percent of their income is earmarked for recurrent monthly expenses. Every one of those expensive items we identified—mortgage, car payments, insurance, tuition—is a fixed cost. Today’s family has no margin for error. There is no leeway to cut back if one earner’s hours are cut or if the other gets sick.

Why is poverty greater today than 10 uears ago and even greater than in 1970 ?

The one-two punch of income vulnerability and rising costs have weakened the middle class, but the revision of the rules of financing is delivering a death blow to millions of families. Since the early 1980s, the credit industry has rewritten the rules of issuing credit to families. Congress has turned the credit industry loose to charge whatever they can get and to bury tricks and traps throughout their credit agreements. Credit card contracts that were less than a page long in the early 1980s now number 30 or more pages of small-print legalese. In the details, credit card companies lend money at one rate, but retain the right to change the interest rate whenever it suits them. They can even raise the rate after the money has been borrowed—a practice once considered too shady for even a back-alley loan shark. When they think they have been cheated, customers in one state are forced into arbitration in locations thousands of miles from home. Companies claim that they can repossess anything a customer buys with a credit card.

Credit card issuers are not alone in their boldness. Home mortgage lenders are writing mortgages that are so one-sided that some of their products are known as “loan-to-own” because it is the mortgage company—not the buyer—who will end up with the house. Payday lenders are ringing military bases and setting up shop in working class neighborhoods, offering instant cash that can eventually cost the customer more than a thousand percent interest.

Was this caused by greed and lax regulation ?

For those who can stay out of debt, the rules of lending may not matter. But the economic pressures on the middle class—stagnant wages, the need to pull down two salaries to support a family, and the rising costs of the basic expenses—are causing more families to turn to credit just to make ends meet. When something goes wrong—a job loss, an illness or accident, or a family break-up—the only place to turn is credit cards and mortgage refinancing. At that moment, the change in lending rules matters. The family that might manage $2,000 of debt at 9%, discovers that it cannot stay afloat when interest rates skyrocket to 29%. And the family that refinanced the home mortgage into a larger loan may be staring at foreclosure. Job losses or medical debts can put any family in a hole, but a credit industry that has rewritten the rules can keep that family from ever climbing back.

Family by family, the middle class now faces higher risks that a job loss or a medical problem will push them over the edge. They are working harder than ever just to maintain a tenuous grasp on a middle-class life. Plenty of families make it, but a growing number of those who worked just as hard and followed the rules just as carefully find themselves in a financial nightmare. A once-secure middle class has disappeared. In its place are millions of families whose grip on the good life can be shaken loose in an instant.

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Eliz_warrenElizabeth Ann Warren (née Herring; born June 22, 1949) is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts and a member of the Democratic Party. Warren was previously a HarvardLawSchool professor specializing in bankruptcy law and is an active consumer protection advocate. Her work as a national policy advocate led to the conception and establishment of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She has written a number of academic and popular works, and is a frequent subject of media interviews regarding the American economy and personal finance.

Alan Barron:-

[Taken from “The Ill Eagle”, Oct 1999, pub by ManKind) – When shuffling through the Gov’t databases held at the University of Essex facility some time ago (1999), I came across a whole series of surveys variously titled and described but all ex[ressing ‘panic’ as to why and where the middle class had disappeared.

I meant to make a note of it and I was only reminded of it when  last week I saw an article by Alan Barron asking the same question in Australia. He began his article by referring to  “The growing divide: work-rich and work-poor families”. This article detailed the decline over the last 20 years of families with only one income and  the rise of families with either two incomes or no earned income at all.

The effect was that by 1998, 18 % of children were growing up in families where neither parent had a job. This compared with 11% in 1979. In a paper entitled  “Labour market trends and family policies: implications for children” Prof. R Gregory  (Research School for Social Sciences, Australian National University) delivered at a recent conference showed that since 1975 the number of men in full-time employment had fallen by 26%. (see http://cbe.anu.edu.au/research/papers/ceprdpapers/DP406.pdf ).

Yet at the same time female full-time employment had risen only 1% !

Yes, there had been a considerable growth in part-time employment but nowhere near enough to offset the fall in male full-time employment [ and this in an era when exporting jobs to China was not even a twinkle in any one’s eye – RW].

In sympathy with families where neither parent had employment, the general unemployment levels in Australia had almost doubled from 4.6% in 1975 to 7.3% in 1999. Some families are moving towards having two jobs the “work rich” whilst other are being elbowed out of the market altogether; the “work poor”.

In such a relatively under-populated country a staggering 229,000 more families were without earned income in 1999 compared with 1998. Two thirds of those elbowed out were SMH (single mother household).

Is it fair to suggest this is why Gov’t employment emphasis is only on the SMH ? By the end of 1999 the remaining one third of families, ie 2 parent families, had seen a further deterioration so that 40% of such families were without earned income. This level of 2-parent unemployment has doubled over the last 20 years.

What this reveals is that there has been a “hollowing out” of the middle classes and one is tempted to surmise that if I were to go back to the English research papers I might find the same trend. Who knows ? With so much happening in our sphere of campaigning and so much demand placed on our precious time, that revelation might have to wait until another day.

Both the  predicament and the phrase has gsined momentum since 1999 with a Uni. of Essex 2007 study in 2007 funded by the Joseph Ronwtree Foundation looking at ‘work rich’ versus’ work poor’ families.

See  ‘Work rich – work poor’ three decades of change” by Richard Berthoud. pub by JRF – Uni of Essex 2007, https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:sv4UIbiUSK8J:www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/1978-employment-distribution-poverty.pdf+&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjdcM0AqVxObJjDDFjsQWMFes9qjOUL4al2jwO1_OF9mrI9wZn7-z67tZ_zVlLhI3dHmzvuo7IUvfluP4gFXfkJrhPK4ebBVFVPOZlMe3-gFEtVojRjOPxw_aeoED9u0GA_wStS&sig=AHIEtbS4Yz_UMvbtPEElp6mDTIDdDffPGg

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Others articles from the SSRC Book series:-

  1. Catastrophic Risks: The need for new tools, financial instruments and institutions by Graciela Chichilnisky
  2. The Privatization of Risk and the Growing Economic Insecurity of Americans by Jacob Hacker
  3. Rising Angst? Change and Stability in Perceptions of Economic Insecurity by Elisabeth Jacobs; Kathryn Newman
  4. Identifying and Managing Household Risk: Lessons from Bankruptcy by Melissa Jacoby
  5. Risk versus Uncertainty: Frank Knight’s “Brute” Facts of Economic Life by William Janeway
  6. The Rising Risks of Rising Economic Inequality: Do Americans Care? by Leslie McCall
  7. Rewriting the Rules: Families, Money and Risk  by Elizabeth Warren

Sir Paul Coleridge vs the Smug generation

Sir Paul Coleridge is a British family law judge (in the divorce and custody division) dealing with divorce issues week after week. In 2012 he took the unusual step for a serving High Court judge of setting up a charity, the Marriage Foundation, highlighting the overlooked benefits of stable marriage. The foundation says its fundamental concern is family breakdown and the destructive effects this has on the lives of children.

As a result, this enlightened concern has been attacked from many quarters including by the legal profession. He has been maligned and scorned by the ‘chattering classes’ for apparently exceeding his remit.

But has he ?

If he has overstepped the mark then what about Brenda Hoggett (aka Dame Justice Hale)?

Marilyn Stowe’s family law blog site is worthy of a visit capturing as she does both sides of the argument as they appear in The Times, The Guardian and Daily Mail. (http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2012/05/04/the-marriage-foundation-playing-devils-advocate/).

Missing the point perhaps is Zoe Saunders, a family barrister at St John’s Chambers, who states she is concerned to see that the Marriage Foundation has missed the opportunity to support gay marriage !

‘The Lawyer’ journal also asks whether “gay marriage” is the Marriage Foundation’s blind spot ?”  [1] Editorially, The Lawyer is pleased to see that Coleridge’s views fit in with that of many family lawyers:

  •  “ . . . who would love to live in a society in which they were entirely redundant. .. .”  

Most of the condemnation stems from, as the “Law Gazette” puts it, his stated preference “ . . . for one kind of family relationship in preference to another.” [2] It is a view given additional weight in a report by Lord Neuberger who said, in March 2012, that judges must be vigilant when talking about public matters or risk compromising judicial authority [3] and tested in a ‘straw poll’ of The Guardian’s readers. However, the proposition posed in the straw poll  was of necessity simplistic:

  • “Should judges confine their contributions to public debate to their judgments ?

The result was that 58% agreed with the proposition that judges should constrain their contributions to public debate, and 42% did not.  Indeed, Lord Neuberger enounced his “seven principles” to empower judges to speak out on matters of public interest.

However, what the anti-marriage ‘carpet baggers’ fail to realise is that the law already expresses a preference and it is for marriage (and always has been). It is the non-marriage fraternity that is seeking to upset the apple cart, to reset priorities, and invent new preferences.

The law has always preferenced monogamy and not polygamy, constancy of marriage over the ethereal transience of cohabiting.

There are points or ‘heads of public policy’ (principles of law) at stake here which few seem anxious to realise in their pandering to an illusory vision of Utopia painted for them by a lobby minority.

Smug generation

Who can forget or be in ignorance of the destructive work and opinions of Benda Hoggett now Lady Justice Hale ? [4]

Did she not shape law that was detrimental to the cohesion of marriage for 20 years ? Did she not actively promote her views at seminars, at colleges in books and in pamphlets ?

Let’s just remind ourselves of what Brenda Hoggett has said and supported over the years.

  • “The courts have abandoned the concept of breach of matrimonial obligations – and their powers of adjustment of property interests in the long term are now so extensive that ordering one spouse from his own home no longer seems so drastic. Far from ordering spouses to stay together, courts are increasingly able and willing to help them separate. [5]
  • “The piecemeal erosion of the distinction between marriage and non-marital cohabitation may be expected to continue”.
  • “We should be considering whether the legal Institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purposes.”

Speaking of the Children Act 1989, she said Family Law no longer buttressed marriage because: [6]

  • “It has adopted principles for the protection of children and dependent spouses which could be made equally applicable to the unmarried.
  • Do we still think it necessary, desirable or even practicable to grant (marriage) licences to enter into relationships? Do we now think it necessary or desirable to grant licences to engage in parent-hood ? And how far do we still think it necessary, desirable or practicable to delay the ending of relation-ships ?” – Kings College Law Journal (1992).
  • “If we abandon the increasingly futile attempt at [marriage] licensing, the other objectives of family law are just as valid for unmarried couples and their children as they are for the married… In many ways I would like to see an end of family law.” – Kings College Law Journal (1992).

Hoggett drew strength for these view citing the then Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern [Conservative]). [7] Her article continued:

  • ‘ . . . . the Lord Chancellor himself has said that it is not the business of the state to enforce or promote any particular style of family life. It is simply unrealistic to attempt to return to anything which looks like a set of rules about how people should conduct their private lives.’

Thirty years ago, in her essay entitled ‘Ends & Means: The Utility of Marriage’ (1980), she wrote that:

  • ‘Family law’ no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage or any other union .… Logically, we have already reached a point at which rather than discussing which remedies should be extended to the unmarried we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purpose.”

Singularly unlucky

That might have been the end of it but after her 10 years tenure at the Law Commission (1984 – 1994); she was made a High Court judge and in that post held forth on her views upon marriage and divorce. In 2003 as the first female member of the Law Lords, Dame Brenda Hale, held a press conference (Nov 2003). She gave vent to a variety of fashionable but deeply controversial opinions.

  1. she was in favour of gay adoption
  2. wanted legally recognised gay partnerships
  3. wanted improved legal rights for heterosexual cohabitants
  4. and wanted to see the concept of fault removed from divorce law

At the time Melanie Phillips described these issues, which were among the most divisive in our society [at the time], as ‘all political topics’. They were the subject of heated debate in Parliament and among the general public. What, therefore, was one of our most senior judges therefore doing in making known her own opinions on these matters ?

Melanie Phillips rightly pointed out that judges are not supposed to enter the political fray, i.e. we should not really know what their views are. And what, indeed, was Dame Brenda doing having a Press Conference at all ? She is/was a judge, not a politician.

Superficially, the same complaint can be laid at the door of Sir Paul Coleridge – with the exception that he is not trying to re-write the law and invert social customs but rather to endorse what is widely accepted by the public as the right sort of regime and value system for a stable society to adopt.

His “judicial sister” Dame Brenda Hoggett (nee Hale), who then reverted to Lady Justice Hale and has since remarried and is now ‘Mrs. Farrand’, is on the record as having left a litany of disasters in her wake. She was, for instance, behind a bill in the 1990s which would have given live-in girlfriends who had left their boyfriends home the right to move back and have their boyfriends evicted from his own property. Fortunately for this scared woman, the Bill was eventually withdrawn.

As a society we have been singularly unlucky in that the disagreeable researcher Mavis Maclean has been a friend of Brenda Hale for 30 years and the self-confessed feminist is close to the “radical” former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer (who made her a High Court judge). Thus we should not be surprised to learn that Hale’s opinion is that:

  • “Deep-rooted problems of inequality persist and the law continues to reflect the economic, social and political dominance of men.”

It is perhaps difficult for many to cast their minds back to the 1980s and recall the rather toxic political and cultural atmosphere of the time. An allegedly ‘influential book’ of the time “Women and the Law” (1984), which was comprehensive survey of women’s rights at work, in the family and in the state, was supposed written by Brenda Hoggett and a fellow academic, However, the only other names appearing as authors are Brenda Hale i.e. Brenda Hoggett’s maiden name and one “Susan Atkins, RNT” which Google is unable to trace and for which RNT appears to stand for the Royal National Theatre (so more detective work is required here).

But then, Dame Brenda is well versed in influencing the development of policy, first as the driving force behind the Law Commission, then inside Whitehall, and now in the Supreme Court. Arguably she does bring a knowledge rare among judges of the workings of Whitehall and the ‘ins and outs’ of the legislative process yet despite her acknowledged theoretical knowledge of the law one retired Law Lord confided: “She’s a bloody awful judge, you know.” 

Logically indefensible

This is exactly what Dame Brenda was doing when in 1980 she made her now infamous remark about marriage.

If as Dame Brenda maintains, ‘Family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage and logically, we have already reached a point at which…we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purpose’ then it follows that the form of no-fault divorce we currently endure is purposeless and should be made redundant (leaving the church and courts with no useful purpose).

If, as appears to be the case, that the argument now accepted in Whitehall that ‘alimony’ is not a rationale demand or expectation to make in a culture of no-fault divorce where petitions can be brought by the offending or transgressing party against the innocent party then it follows that the same is true for CSA payments (a fact borne out by the recent DWP Consultation Paper on reforming the CSA regime).

To re-quote the Lord Chancellor “It is simply unrealistic to attempt to return to anything which looks like a set of rules about how people should conduct their private lives.’ Are ‘they’ at last realising that people’s live are the property of that individual person and not the state’s ?

Safe pair of hands ?

Whenever Whitehall is looking to appoint a successor its prime consideration is to acquire the services of “a safe pair of hands,” someone they can depend on not rock the boat or cause then to have to consider matters of principle. So it is something of a mystery that Brenda Hoggett should have been hand-picked for positions of power.

The Law Commission as a body, is where she headed the reform of the family division from 1984 – 94. This has been consistently hostile to traditional marriage over the years, pushing for easier divorce and for cohabitation rights. It pressurised – when the public did not – for the abolition of the status of illegitimacy in 1987 – giving a green light to increased numbers (and costs) of to unmarried parenthood. [8] In 1988, the Law Commission said there was no more need to support marriage than ‘any other living arrangement’, and dismissed the high rate of divorce as no great cause for concern. This precedent was subsequently picked up by politicians with the various legal reforms we have witnessed in the last 5 to 7 years.[9]

Against this background then, it is in the opinion of the ‘chattering classes that a betrayal or a breach of duty to be impartial in legal matters has unforgivably occurred.

Yet ‘dear Brenda Hoggett’ was never challenged or attacked in the media or accused of being radical or a renegade by her comrades in the legal profession. Perhaps this is due to her unique status of being the only High Court judge to be appointed who had never ever first been a practicing lawyer ? Is this the result of nepotism, cronyism or skilful use of the corridors of power ?

A propos all the aforesaid, Lord Coleraine speaking in the Family Law Bill  debate  [circa 1996]  countered the quasi “intellectual argument”

  • There is an intellectual argument abroad which has been running fast since the 1960s. It is attractive to those who were first seduced by and then damaged by the ideas that were then fashionable. They deny the usefulness and necessity of civil marriage. They portray marriage as unfairly and unreasonably discriminating against those who choose only informal ties or perhaps no ties at all with the persons with whom they have chosen to live or with whom they may have parented children.”
  • “…… an average couple contemplating marriage ……. expects the marriage to be lasting, and is accustomed to look to the state to provide some support for it. ……  With such support there can, from the outset, be better confidence in the marriage and each other between the marriage partners. Without it, civil marriage will be, and will be perceived to be, no more than the temporary licensing of cohabitation on an ongoing basis. Such a cheap utility version of marriage can hardly command more than minimal respect. There will be less and less inclination to bother to enter into such a watered down minimal union.” – (Hansard, 20 Nov 1995: Column 196).

The architect of that ‘cheap utility’ and slashing of state support for marriage was no lesser person than the Law Commissioner charged with the responsibility for family affairs – one Brenda Hoggett, aka Lady Justice Hale.

Surely an instance of the fox being put in charge of the hen house.

The contradiction for her and the Law Commission is that Hoggett questions whether it is ‘necessary, desirable or even practicable for the state’ to grant licenses to enter into relationships, yet nonetheless wants to interfere by de-constructing it, while the Law Commission, for its part, wants to interfere in human free choice and regulate cohabitation which has been freely entered into but that then founder.

It would surely be more consistent for the state if it were to not support marriage to also fail to support cohabiting ?

Reflecting

‘Ends & Means: The Utility of Marriage’ is a title that prompts several questions. One is whether she uses ends and means within the ideological definition of the radical left, i.e. one justifying the other.

The second is Bentham’s definition of ‘utility’, namely the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. If that was her aim it has not been achieved; her dream has soured.

‘Outcomes’ show that parties who divorce may feel an initial degree of happiness upon separation but it is short lived, superficial, and followed by increasing depths of poverty and mental stress. For the children caught up in the process, unhappiness and failure has been shown to stalk them into adult life.

This cannot be the utility ‘dividend’ Hogget was expecting – but is it one justified by an ideology ?

As Melanie Phillips writes in her book “The Sex-Change Society” :

  •  “The divorce laws … were reformed by unrepresentative groups with very particular agendas of their own and which were not in step with public opinion . . . . .Public attitudes were gradually dragged along behind laws that were generally understood at the time to mean something very different from what they subsequently came to represent.” 

END

Footnotes:


[3] Article by Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, The Guardian, 16th March 2012

[4]  Former Law Commissioner Brenda Hoggett (from 1984) – now Lady Justice Hale – who was one of the architects of the Family Law Act 1996.

[5] In “Ends And Means: The Utility Of Marriage As A Legal Institution”, edited by J.M. Eekalaar and S.N. Kats she spells out her, and the law’s, current views of marriage.

[7] Given his religious and legal background  he proved to be a real disappointment in upholding standards.

[8]  By 2011 DWP figures show that 45% of children under the age of 15 grow up in single parent households.

[9]  “The judicial sister” by Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 13th  Nov 2003 http://www.melaniephillips.com/articles/archives/000134.html

Dutch, at 70% go ‘shared parenting mad’

by Peter Tromp  &  Robert Whiston   23rd Dec 2012

The Dutch term for shared parenting is ‘verblijfsco-ouderschap’ (or co-residential parenting) which broadly translates as shared or co-parenting.

In a poll of the Dutch public 71% said they agreed with co-parenting after divorce. And despite feminist protests against the concept of shared or co-parenting, Dutch women more than men favoured the newer regime – 76% as opposed to 67% of men.

One of the many surprising results found that women , at 52%, were significantly more in favour than men (at 39%), in believing that ‘residential co-parenting’ after a divorce or separation in principle should start immediately after childbirth, i.e. is not child-age-restricted or limited to older children.

The poll, undertaken in Sept 2012 by the opinion research firm IPSOS Synovate (“The Political Barometer“), in conjunction with the Dutch based ‘Father Knowledge Centre’ asked a series of inter-related questions probing the preferences and opinions of the Dutch general public.

See also,  http://motoristoppression.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/16/Belgians like their shared parenting laws.”

The main results of opinion poll commissioned by IPSOS Synovate and the Father Knowledge Centre found that a two-thirds majority (7 out of 10) of the Dutch think that co-parenting is the best solution after a divorce. In addition:

  • Almost half (45%) of the Dutch think that co-parenting (shared care and accommodation) after a separation should be possible – even immediately after birth.
  • 8 out of 10 (80%) of respondents believes that schools and agencies dealing with their children should keep both parents equally well-informed and involved in the development of their child after divorce or separation.
  • Slightly more than half (53%) believed that parental and access arrangements which have been ordered by the court should be complied with.

Sample size

The survey was conducted on-line by IPSOS Synovate on behalf of the Father Knowledge Centre among a representative sample of 1,243 Dutch people aged 18 years and older. The results are subsequently weighted by age, gender, education and region, so that the group surveyed a good reflection of Dutch society.

Further analysis

This particular survey is significant in that it generates information not only about the respondee’s gender (male / female), and age, but also their intended voting preferences. [1]

There are far more Political Parties in Holland than we are accustomed to in the UK and with apparently similar names it would be helpful to list them for the reader.

Political Parties in the Netherlands
SP    (Dutch Socialists) PVV   (Dutch Social Conservatives)
D66  (Dutch Liberal Democrats) VVD   (Dutch Liberal Conservatives – now in government)
CDA  (Dutch Christian Democrats) PvdA  (Dutch Social Democrats – now in government [Labour] )

Some of the disaggregated results based on gender (male / female), region and age, etc, are shown below:

  • Co-parenting was chosen as the best solution after a divorce by 74% of respondents who had a secondary education and 75% by those with a higher education. The figure in support of co-parenting among less well-educated Dutch respondents was lower at 64%.
  • Dutch women have a significantly stronger preference for co-parenting after divorce than men (Women: 76% Men: 67%).
  • The majority of Dutch women (52%) believed that residential co-parenting after divorce or separation in principle could start immediately after childbirth, i.e. is not child-age-bound and limited to older children. A significant minority of men (not necessarily fathers) agreed, i.e. women: 52%, men: 39%).

Small generational divide

  • The older Dutch generation of (those aged over 50) were significantly more in favour, at 76%, of residential co-parenting after divorce and separation as the best post-separation parenting solution, than the middle-aged generation of the 35 and 49 year olds, at 66%.
  • It was also found among the Dutch survey that the older generation (aged 50 + and by a margin of 84%) were significantly more likely to favour schools and institutions informing both parents equally after separation and be involved in the development of their child. The younger generation, i.e. those aged 18 to 34 supported this slightly less, at 75%).

Political analysis

  1. Respondents belonging to the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) and the Social Liberal Party (D66), strongly supported shared and co-parenting after divorce, at 79% and 80% respectively.
  2. The Christian Democratic (CDA) and the right-wing PVV party preferred the shared /co parenting option by over two-thirds, at 66% and 69% respectively.
  3. Dutch voters who at the last Dutch national elections of September 12th, 2012 preferred to vote for Dutch Social Democratic Party (PvdA), which is now in the government coalition supported co-parenting in 79% of cases.
  4. Among D66 voters, the Dutch Liberal Democratic Party, 80% of respondees found residential co-parenting significantly more often the best solution for parenting arrangements after divorce or separation,
  5. The Dutch who preferred to vote for the Dutch Christian Democratic Party (CDA), in 66% of instances preferred co-parenting for custody arrangements after divorce.
  6. Those who voted for the Dutch Social Conservative Party (PVV), at the last Dutch national elections of Sept 12th 2012 expressed a 69% preference in favour of shared/co-parenting for custody arrangements after divorce.

The implications for all British politicians and electoral success is clear.

END

References:

A similar study has previously taken place in Belgium and was published in the largest French-speaking Belgian newspaper ‘Le Soir’ on 25 June 2012:

See the original Le Soir article about the Belgian research: 

  • Divorce: la garde a la cote alternee (Le Soir Belge – DORZEE, HUGUES – Page 7 – Lundi 25 June 2012).
  • Une majorité the Belges preconise la garde alternee (Le Soir Belge – Page 1 – Lundi 25 June 2012).

Dutch translation of the Le Soir article:

And in collaboration with the partner organizations of the Father Knowledge Centre within the Platform for European Fathers (PEF), these surveys also in other European countries still take place.

END

Footnotes:


[1] The breakdown was by a). gender (male / female), b). region, c). age, d). training / education and e). political voting preference as at the last Dutch national elections of Sept 12th  2012.

Crime-fighting in crisis ?

Somehow this 2004 article about rape and DNA testing was never  published. It was originally prompted by a report from the US  Attorney General on the backlog of DNA evidence in the USA.

It seemed at the time to chime with the unfolding missed opportunities leading up to 9/11 and the bungling of foreign policy following that date. In particular, the realisation that despite size and resources, ambitions and targets were being thwarted. The Attorney General’s ‘Introduction’ to the report captures the essence:

  • On August 21, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft directed the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to assess the existing delays of crime scene DNA evidence and develop recommendations to eliminate those delays. Specifically, the Attorney General requested that the assessment and recommendations address, among other matters: (1) resource requirements for laboratory equipment; (2) resource, training, and education requirements for laboratory personnel; and (3) the use of innovative technologies that could permit speedier analysis with smaller equipment. He also directed NIJ to make recommendations for a national [ and to eliminate the unacceptable delays]. In response to this direction, NIJ convened a task force comprising a broad cross-section of criminal justice and forensic science experts. At these [2001- 2002] meetings, the task force and NIJ staff discussed  the nature and the causes of those DNA backlogs, and possible strategies for reducing the backlogs. (ref:  http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pdf/dna_studyreport_final.pdf . Dec 12th 2003).

Now almost 10 years on it is worth while looking back at the road we have journeyed down; what has taken place and what developments have been ‘normalised’ into our lives.

When CSI Miami is but a distant dream

By Robert Whiston,  FRSA, April 16th 2004 

America, in an election year, may be on the brink of a crisis. Not a crisis far away in the Middle East but one very much of a domestic nature. While the present on-going Senate Commission into terrorism, and the disaster of Sept 11th, reveals embarrassing shortfalls in governmental measures to protect its citizens, it does not equip and arm the nation for the future.

Worthy though the Commission may be, it is essentially looking backwards and has not noticed that there is an as yet unrecognised additional dimension. Latest figures from National Institute of Justice (NIJ) show that America’s ability to solve internal crime is in serious jeopardy. [1] Therefore, additional demands made by Homeland Security measures will only exacerbate an increasingly deteriorating situation.

The report, sponsored by the NIJ, draws attention to the malaise within the system of the administration charged with implementing DNA testing. It states that the capabilities of state funded DNA crime laboratories are being compromised at local and federal level by serious shortages of both funds and trained staff. The consequence is a huge backlog of over half a million cases awaiting DNA determination.

The average waiting time for a DNA result is measured in months not days, as in England.

Even where specially prepared “rape kits” are used the NIJ states that the processing times at crime laboratories “pose significant delays in many jurisdictions”, with State laboratories taking on average of 23.9 weeks to process an unnamed suspect and local laboratories average 30 weeks for a similar test. This compares with 30 days in England

This under-resourcing impacts on both the guilty and the innocent as they await the DNA results that will either set them free or set a trial date. It may also hamper rapid reaction to terrorist outbursts.

Most state crime laboratories report that while federal funding has played an important role in assisting them with backlogged DNA cases, the proportion funded through federal sources of their overall DNA work is minimal

DNA determination is a major plank in any crime fighting effort. Yet a staggering 80% of State crime laboratories receive 50% or less of their funding from federal sources. That figure falls to only 4.5% at the local laboratory level.

Summing up the situation the report states “ The role of the federal government in funding forensic DNA analysis has been, up to this point, important but rather minimal.”
The backlog, and the lack of well paid staff, has awesome terrorist implications. If America is to get to grips with terrorism it must do so in every state. It must have the ability for each state to operate independently and efficiently to detect and identify DNA samples. It must have the ability to grow its capacity by sharing sample bases and utilise inter-state co-operation.

DNA, together with other measure such as fingerprints left on driving licences and of common place items such as cutlery and plates, can be the can-opener when teasing out Al-Quieda cells.

How can they be expected to play a positive role in Bush’s global War on Terrorism ? America, if under-resourced and unsynchronised,  must brace itself for what may be, at worst, a thirty year campaign, and at best a ten year one. This campaign, unlike the War on Narcotics, allows the combatant, ie the US administration, no room for slippage and no second chances.

In recent years forensic DNA evidence has been increasingly used by agencies and players in the criminal justice arena. Cases that previously would have been deemed impregnable have been defeated by science.

However, this new technology, that holds the allure of solving all difficult cases, carries it’s own seeds of destruction. The wealth of opportunities it creates means that law enforcement agencies resort to its use not only for existing cases but for re-opening and solving old ones. But supply cannot meet present demand.

Paradoxically, the US Attorney General’s report about the backlog in DNA evidence, found that this miserable situation is compounded by their observation that staff and police officers are still largely ignorant of the full potential benefits that DNA testing can provide. It expresses concern about the casual way DNA samples are stored in situations that aids their deterioration and increases the risk of cross contamination, e.g. 3 summer days in a squad car’s boot [ trunk, US ? ].

The report cites the widespread use of DNA testing in England as a case in point. Unlike many US states, England does not restrict the taking of DNA samples from offenders who have been found guilty of a capital crime or sexual offence. [2] As a result the DNA database is far larger, as a proportion of the population that the US, and is an effective crime fighting tool in all lesser categories of crime from street mugging to burglary. In fact, it is the cross-connectivity between one category of crime, say a motoring offence or grievous assault, that can lead to a convictions in another category, e.g. for bomb making or rape. [3]

The following newspaper extract is an example of how this worked in an actual case in England : –

  • A relative of Craig Harman inadvertently led police to their man after officers used pioneering DNA techniques.  Craig Harman was jailed in April 2004 for killing lorry driver Michael Little. Mr Little died in March 2003 as he drove his vehicle on the M3 in Surrey. A brick thrown from a footbridge above the motorway crashed through the lorry’s screen causing him to suffer a fatal heart attack. The DNA profile from the brick found in the lorry’s [ rig, US] cab was checked against the national database, but because Harman did not have a criminal record no match came up. It was then decided to use the intelligence-led DNA screening and familial searching facility of the Forensic Science Service. Using this new technique, 25 people with similar DNA were located and Harman’s relative was top of the list. Harman was then caught after giving a DNA sample, which matched exactly.
  • Detective Chief Inspector Graham Hill said: “There is no doubt in my mind that without this groundbreaking technique and the Forensic Science Service, this crime would have remained undetected.” The service will now be used by other police forces, which will have to pay £5,000 a time to the Forensic Science Service.

The overwhelming modus operandi in the US is to restrict DNA sampling and database compilation to instances of homicide or rapes.

Britain, with a population of 58m, has DNA profiles of some 2m offenders on file. The US, with a population of 258m, has only 1.3m offenders on DNA files. The NIJ concludes that this is a major contributing factor for the greater detection rates in Britain.

This, the Attorney General’s report believes, is a mistake, and it is a mistake that has terrorist implications, as can be seen from the Craig Harman example above. The report essentially provides a breakdown of the analysis of the 4,092 DNA databases and their associated “hits” in 38 states.

The majority of database hits have linked repeat offenders to violent crimes. By way of example, it discloses that for several years the Virginia Division of Forensic Science has reported that more than 80% of the hits on the state’s DNA database would have been missed if the database had been limited to only violent offenders.

Addendum – This contrasts with the British experience where despite a larger DNA data base than the US the number of DNA matches is embarrassingly small. The UK DNA database is involved in solving only 0.67 per cent of crimes (http://www.straightstatistics.org/article/dna-retention-analysis-published-last Jan 2010 and Sept 2011).

It is the number of successful ‘hits’ that reconnects our attention of the terrorist implication.  America’s scope of action is restricted by having a slow, creaking system burdened by increased demand yet with no corresponding increase in resources.

All the airport security in the world will not help track down terrorist sleeper cells firmly ensconced within the borders of mainland America. But DNA will.

Depth of Problem

The NIJ study brings a scientific rigour to a question that has increasingly occupied public debate in both law enforcement and public policy circles.
In the NIJ survey almost all DNA facilities in the USA were contacted. The researchers found that the total backlog of crime cases with possible biological evidence either still in the possession of local law enforcement, or backlogged at forensic laboratories was over half a million (542,700).

Specifically, the number of rape and homicide cases with possible biological evidence which local law enforcement agencies have not submitted to a laboratory for analysis was over 221,000.

The number of property crime cases with possible biological evidence which local law enforcement agencies have not submitted to a laboratory for analysis is over 264,000.

Analysis:    

  •         Homicide cases –     52,000 (approximate)
  •         Rape cases –         169,000  (approximate)
  •         Property crime –   264,000 (approximate)

The number of unanalysed DNA cases reported by State and local crime laboratories is more than 57,000.

Analysis:      

  •       State laboratories  –  34,700 cases  (approximate)
  •        Local laboratories –  22,600 cases  (approximate

Cost Benefit

The report puts emphasis, perhaps unnecessarily in the opinion of some, on the cost benefit ratio of a speedier DNA testing regime.

However, the revealed cost of ‘rape testing kits’ is interesting. The average cost was estimated at over $1,000 per kit to process, per case. This does not compare favourably with DNA ‘paternity testing kits’, which cost around $400 per kit and are usually undertaken by private companies. This is particularly so when ‘economies of scale’ are considered.  One would expect that with far more price negotiating power being wielded by Gov’t agencies and with possibly less of a demand for paternity testing kits, that the costs to be lower.

Table 4.12. Average cost of rape kit analysis and frequency that factors associated with costs were  included in the estimate.

  •       Local Laboratories  –           $1,153.95
  •       State Laboratories   –           $1,041.27

Source: “Attorney General’s Report on the DNA Evidence Backlog”,  http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pdf/dna_studyreport_final.pdf .

Both State and local crime laboratories are overworked, understaffed, and insufficiently funded. They reported that personnel needs were among the most significant concerns for their DNA programmes. Specifically, most crime laboratories expressed the need for supplemental funding for additional DNA staff; several laboratories indicated that their priority concern was for additional funding to augment current salaries to avoid the loss of skilled personnel to other prospective employers. A strong need was also reported for reagents (chemicals used in DNA analysis) and for technical equipment used for DNA analysis.

Methodology and Scope.

The methodology adopted by the report included all state and local forensic DNA laboratories. For the purposes of the study, the term “local” laboratory(ies) was defined as including those laboratories serving city, county or regional jurisdictions. Responses were obtained from 50 state laboratories and 70 local laboratories across the country. This level of response thereby provides an overwhelming confidence in the analysis conducted using the data provided by these laboratories.

Steps were taken to involve the large number of local law enforcement agencies in the country of between 15,000, and 18,000. This figure varied depending upon the inclusion or exclusion of “special police” agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol, airport police, etc. The study design called for the development of a law enforcement agency sampling protocol. All police agencies with over 100 commissioned officers (both Sheriff and municipal police agencies) were also included.

Managing the expansion.

The DNA database system in the US would need to reach almost ten million profiles to achieve a similar percentage of the total population as seen in England.

To reach this level would require monetary investment, and human endeavour simply to catch up. State crime laboratories estimated that an expanded DNA database statute would add a combined total of 2,281,000 offender profiles in the first year, with an annual rate of 504,484 additional profiles in future years.

However, adopting some procedural changes would readily ameliorate the exposure to rising costs felt by hard-pressed budgets. Significantly, it has been the custom in the US to gain DNA samples from offenders at a time close to their release (72 percent). The British method is to DNA test offenders at the time of, or shortly after, sentencing. This small difference has huge gains.

It allows police agencies to crosscheck other cases ensuring that a previously unsolved crime can be allocated by means of DNA matching. It gives an opportunity to decide whether additional charges should be pursued while the offender is still in custody. Collecting DNA from offenders shortly after sentencing also allows sufficient time for the sample to be processed, even if there should be a backlog, long before an offender is released.

Another benefit would be the lifting of time pressure constraints from DNA testing staff and the enabling of an orderly build-up in staff numbers and staff competence.

The result of the present American regime in matching at the time of release, is that another rape or murder might be committed that could have been averted. In the latter pages of the Report many instances of this are given.

Other technical developments will lower unit costs. Over half of the state laboratories (52%) reported that they took blood samples from offenders as a means of recording DNA. This is invasive and blood collections require a trained phlebotomist. Buccal swabs (saliva and cells from inside the cheek), in contrast, can be accomplished easily with a minimal amount of training. The adoption of buccal sample swabs is therefore becoming more widespread.

Developments & limitations

The emergence of mitochondrial DNA Testing (or mtDNA) is another recent forensic breakthrough, though it does have limitations. Testing using the ‘mtDNA’ approach is particularly useful for evidence such as bone fragments and hair samples where nuclear DNA may not be present.
Testing of nuclear DNA, ie the ‘normal’ way, is by far the most common analysis conducted in the United States and in other countries. The test results measure the short tandem repeats (STR) of nuclear cells in DNA. Only two copies of nuclear DNA are present in human cells (one copy from the biological mother and one copy from the biological father), which means that a deterioration of the cell sample, or a sample that has only a few cells, may not be testable through STR analysis.

However, mtDNA testing is rather limited in criminal forensic identification applications. MtDNA is passed down through maternal lines, with all descendants in a given maternal line sharing the same mtDNA sequence. So, while mtDNA may conclusively prove that a particular person is related through maternal lineage to a specified woman, it does not serve the purpose of uniquely identifying the individual in question. Indeed, persons who would appear to be unrelated may in fact share a common maternal relative at some point in their lineage, and this would lead to the same mtDNA results. As a result, mtDNA testing can be used in criminal cases to positively include or exclude a person as a possible suspect, but does not provide the discriminatory power that the forensic community has come to expect from nuclear DNA analysis. MtDNA testing is also more labour intensive, and therefore considerably more expensive than nuclear DNA testing.

Nonetheless, in this battle it is a method that cannot be overlooked or under-funded. In the realm of mitochondrial DNA testing Britain can be said to be comparatively ahead in its application.

Options facing Bush administration

Today, every AmericanState has a DNA database statute that allows collection of DNA from specified offenders. This must be expanded to include all offences not just serious ones, as at present. This will inevitably upset civil rights activists and consternation to libertarians. There remains a propensity, in parallel with the Patriot Act, for the ill use of DNA. For it can be applied ill-advisedly in a draconian way (see Craig Harman, above). DNA searching can go both forward and backwards over the generations and across family linkages.

Today, every AmericanState is linked into CODIS. CODIS is a computer software programme that operates local, State, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons. Every State therefore must have the ability to interrogate the databases of other states including the FBI’s without administrative form filling delays.

CODIS has a demonstrable track record of success in the thousands of matches that have linked serial cases, and to cases that have subsequently been solved by matching crime scene evidence to known convicted offenders.

How much more successful this would be if significant investments were made in this area of forensic work ?

The cost benefits concerns mentioned in the Attorney General’s report are expressions of worry worthy of a civil servants mentality and are largely imaginary. The bottom line is the value we put on lives not the compensatory price we put on them when they are dead. The FBI, for instance, reports that the estimated dollar loss attributed to property crime (excluding arson) in the U.S. was $16.6 billion in 2001. The USA can easily afford to throw $16m at DNA infrastructure if it results in quicker detection of terrorists and better criminal law enforcement. Even if the cost were $216m it would still be essential.

From a public relations perspective, the spin off would be that the project of releasing wrongly convicted offenders would be boosted. Critics could be quietened were it to be shown that the “Innocence Project” where the advantages of DNA analysis leads to the release of those wrongfully convicted is accelerated and made comprehensive.

This is a redeeming feature sadly not found in the British use and application of DNA screening.

E N D

[1] “Attorney General’s Report on the DNA Evidence Backlog”, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pdf/dna_studyreport_final.pdf . Released April 6, 2004. Compiled Dec 12th  2003.

[2] Every State today has a DNA database statute that allows collection of DNA from specified offenders. All 50 States require DNA from sex offenders and murderers, and 46 States require DNA from all violent felony convictions (including assault and battery and robbery).

[3] “Killer caught by relative’s DNA”. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/england/3640199.stm

People are not percentages

by Robert Whiston FRSA  July 6th 2012

Charge into any minefield and the chances of being blown up are high. Rob George’s foray into the strange and contradictory world of custody matters has brought him nothing but shrapnel-like rebukes – but what does he expect, a pat on the back ?

Play with fire and sooner or later you’ll get burnt. Dr Rob George has played with fire, got some of the basic building blocks wrong and is being flamed as a result.

One can’t even excuse the blunders by pointing to the parallax phenomenon (one where an object’s apparent change in position is due to the viewer’s position).

Dr Robert George, of the Law Faculty, University of Oxford is described as specialising in family law and policy. He is one of many who stand by the claim that only 10% of cases end up in court. Although he uses government produced statistics he comes to wildly different conclusions to many others, especially those that have been at the actual coal face and have been through the divorce courts.

As an academic and one who is capable of influencing events should we treat Dr Rob George merely as an innocent abroad, or armed and dangerous ?

The origins of the “10%” claim were first examined in 2004 when it was found that:

  • “The Omnibus Survey [circa 2004] is a multi-purpose survey based on a representative sample of adults aged 16 or over. The report is based on 935 adults. 649 were resident parents 312 were non-resident parents and 26 respondents were both (so are counted in both categories). The DfES made available the results on Friday 19th March 2004.” 

Perhaps it should be noted that more recent versions of this survey are said to embrace a larger sample size. However, the Omnibus Survey into Non-resident parental contact, 2007/8 (Report No. 38), and cited by Rob George on his blog has this to say about respondents:

  • “The achieved sample comprises of 265 respondents who were resident parents and 170 respondents who were non-resident parents. There were 10 respondents who were both a resident parent and a non-resident parent.”
  • As in 2002, the majority (89%) of resident parents were female while the majority of non-resident parents were male (88%).”

Confidence in the ONS’s ability to produce reliable data is again undermined when the question of cohabiting is examined. For instance the Financial Resources Survey (FRS), questioned approximately 1,900 people living in Great Britain using a random general population sample. This identified 67 people who had cohabited for at least six months and who had separated from that cohabitation within the last four years. Only 20 of these 67 formed part of the ONS sample frame (page 57).

Addendum: April 2013 – An academic voice has at last joined our contention that the 10% figure is a nonsense. In written evidence to the Children and Families bill committee, Prof. Parkinson (author of Australia shared parenting law reform) poured scorn on the claim in child custody matters that “Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements.”  In written evidence put before parliament shows why it is wrong and unreliable (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739vw09.htm

This 10% figure has been cited extensively over the years and by Prof. Liz Trinder (and her inner circle of Jenn McIntosh), Peacey and Hunt (2008) and as far back as Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts (2004).  For a brief review of its importance and impact see also “Parkinson’s cavalry crushes Norgrove’s big guns” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/16-2/.

Common agreement

What is not in contention is that children should have a strong and on-going relationship with their father and mother after divorce / separation. This liberty /freedom should be made available to all regardless of income or social class or marital status. As Rob George’s correctly states the case:

  • “ . . . this isn’t really a debate about the principle that children should have strong involvement from both parents – it’s a debate about the practical ways in which that principle should be applied.”

The dear Doctor then sets out to “. . .. demonstrate why changing the law to promote shared time for children of separated parents is a misguided idea that will harm children.” And this is where he loses it.

He seems unacquainted with the 1986 study by the Law Commission into ‘joint custody’ – arguably the precursor to shared parenting. They found that in some court circuits joint custody accounted for 30% of awards and in others almost 50%. [1]

So were separated parents ‘misguided’ and judges delinquent in the 1980s ? Were children put at risk in the manner that the anti-shared parenting lobby say will befall children if reforms go through ?

Despite admitting that “A lot of people know someone who has been involved with the family courts, either as a parent or as a child” he maintains that research has consistently shown that only about 10% of separating parents go to court about child custody.

Most divorcing couples have chidlren and who gains custody of them dictates what assets are are seized by the court and awarded to the one parent. In other words, there is everything to fight for, so why would 90% of divorcing couples say “I have no interest in anything I own, so take what you want.”

By common consent no one will readily admit to having had a good or satisfactory divorce and by extension, matters are even more fraught and stressed when one’s children are concerned.

George says that:

  • The large majority of parents sort things out without help from the court, either entirely privately or with other assistance from professionals (usually family solicitors, who are skilled at negotiating and settling cases).”

Can this be true ?  Is the corollary that society doesn’t care enough about the remaining 90% to ensure they have good post divorce parental arrangements ? Is this as a cipher for being abandoned as a ‘nonentity’ and tossed onto life’s dung heap ?

By alarge majority’ does George mean 90%, i.e. the balance, or somewhere over 50% or 60% ? For the time being and to keep matters simple, let’s assume it’s the 90%.

Numbers check

Latterly, the number of divorces has been in the region of 140,000 per annum. If only 10% had to go to court then we could expect courts to deal with 14,000 cases, approx that number of court orders would be made, and approx. that number of Welfare Reports written out by CAFCASS – but what do we find ?

In 2007 the number of divorces in England & Wales according to ONS fell by 3% to 128,534 pa. Some years earlier, in 2004, it had been at 153,689 pa and also over 150,000 in 1993 (see chart).

Basing calculations on current year divorce numbers being in the region of 140,000 is therefore reasonable.[2]

So how many court orders were made ?

From the Table, shown left, there were a total of 109,656 court orders – the bulk of them, 89,346, were made at the County Court level. Of these, 35,815 were for a ‘residence’ order and 38,405 were for a ‘contact’ order (click to enlarge).

If things were so ‘hunky-dory’ why did over 38,000 seek a ‘contact’ order when supposedly only 14,000 troublesome families should have applied to court to sort out their arrangements (140,000 x 10%) ?

In fact the situation appears to have deteriorated in the years between 2002 and 2011. Far more ‘contact applications – which typically fathers apply for – were made. There was an increase in 2011 of 56% over 2002. The situation for ‘residence’ – which for 30 years has always been a step too far for fathers to achieve – has nonetheless  marginally  altered with 9,000 more ‘hopefully’ making an application in 2011 (and by inference, succeeded), than in 2002 (39,123 vs. 30,006).

2002 is a notable date since in that year an abortive attempt was made by the LCD to give fathers more contact time following on from the paper “Making Contact Work.”  [3] Abortive because the exercise was turned into a whipping boy by the radical feminist on the committees who were opposed to any increase in fathers’ rights or contact time.

This quote from page 94 of that Report is more than a little apropos:

  • “Having described the Australian reforms [of 1995 ?] set out above, Professor Walker continues: –
  • Research in Australia has shown that most applications to enforce contact refer to consent orders, indicating that disputes are not usually the result of the flouting of court orders, but the failure of parents to make consent orders work. The conclusion drawn is that the reasons for the breakdown of contact arrangements are much more complex than had been presumed. Furthermore, enforcement orders rarely succeed in resolving contact disputes. The arrangements made at the time of divorce may not be workable in the months and years following. Rethinking contact arrangements may be more helpful than enforcement of orders. There is a suggestion that greater scrutiny of private arrangements is needed.”

‘Not workable’, that’s the factor George has missed out of hids theoretical model. It has only taken 10 years to reach that point where “Rethinking contact arrangements may be more helpful”, i.e. shared parenting which will prove more helpful than the present failed system.

From the Table above, the only decline in numbers appears to be in the ‘parental responsibility’ category the status of which was altered some years ago (circa 2002), to give automatic parental responsibility to both married and unmarried fathers (yet somehow 5,224 find that they still need to apply, why is that ?).

Given that the numbers divorcing has remained relatively stable and a ‘plateau’ achieved, how are we to explain the court order variances between 2002 and 2011 ?

Will CAFCASS reconcile the differences or simply confirm a clash ? According to the Annual Report published by CAFCASS, private law applications, i.e. divorces, fell by 1.6% from 44,471 in 2009-10 to 43,759 for the year 2010 – 2011. [4] 

Put conservatively, the difference between CAFCASS’s output and Dr George’s estimate is almost 30,000 applications (14,000 vs. 43,000). However, this hides the two fold nature of CAFCASS; its public law workload that year of 11,986 and its separate private law cases numbering 43,759 cases.

Both types of cases often included more than one child, so the combined number of children that CAFCASS worked with in the year 2010 was, according to their Annual Report, 147,000 (or over 100,000 more than George’s estimate).

Is the situation getting worse or have the parameters changed ? In 2007-08 CAFCASS worked with 77,134 children (a 50% difference).

Table 2.4 (‘Family matters’) produced by the Ministry of Justice shows that in 2011 the total number of applications was some 178,517. There is a significant difference at first glance between 178,517 and the 109,656 “Orders made” total shown in the previous table. However, Tables 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 in the same series are all consistent with one other (displaying 109,656 as the total). Only Table 2.24, displaying 178,517 & 183,718 as the totals, is at variance. All four Tables relate to the number of children affected and not the number of cases and a footnote underlines this point, ‘Figures relate to the number of children subject to each application.’

One has to assume that a proportion were re-applications for orders that were not complied with. The variance may also be due to technical reasons in collating / putting together the data but whatever the reason all the totals are far removed from the “only 10% of divorcing couples go to court” belief. With divorce absolutes numbering 119,610 in 2011, the 109,000 total of order applications is more likely to be over 50% and closer to 90% of all divorces. [5]

Misguided

If the greater proportion of parents sort out custody matters with help from family solicitors and other professionals who are skilled at negotiating and settling cases, what happens when some of these 90% of arrangements begin to fall apart ? Do they end up in court or go back to their family solicitors (who, by the way, as it is a conflict of interest cannot act for both) ?

For reason known only to himself, George blunders again when he claims, by osmosis, that it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that:

  • “ . .  . many of the 10% who do end up in court are the most conflicted, the most bitter, and the most complicated cases.”

How wrong can you get ? Has he spoken to any of these people ? Has he listened to their stories ?

This is where he becomes a dangerous innocent abroad.

Couples that end up in court probably started out on their path to divorce with all the best intentions but as we see all the time with lottery winners and beneficiaries of wills, greed and ill-will can, like a cancer soon creep in.

Surprise is exhibited that fathers want a share of their children’s lives. This surprise is invariably voiced by those who have not had nor are the likely to have their incomes, future income and pensions ‘raided’ (see Table 2.7 left).

Every year somewhere in the region of 24,000 husbands will not only lose the home where they lived but suffer a slash in their disposable income – due to a divorce the majority never asked for.

Piled on top of this indignity is the necessity to have to negotiate with court and ex-wife (who may have her own agenda) as to when and how long for one might see one’s children. We don’t deprive common criminals of so many fundamental rights or make them endure so many humiliations devised by fanatics. Too late the hero, Ruth Deech sees the error of her ways and the “vengeful” nature of ancillary relief she helped to created in the late 1960s.

Conversely, couples that cannot get along well probably give up negotiating and go their own separate way. George seems blissfully unaware that solicitors’ advice to husbands defending a divorce or seeking shared residence were told (and probably still are), to save their money as they won’t ‘win’ in a custody fight  regardless of how strong may be their case. Perversely, these couples can be said to escape from the divorce process with only moderate emotional damage.

George then aggregates this group by impugning that “research shows that the cases that go to court have very high rates of domestic violence.”  What twaddle.

Research shows only that ‘claim’ of domestic violence are high but there is no research to show that the level of substantiated claims might be high. Those are two different things. George is blissfully unaware of the silver bullet stratagem used in custody cases in order to destroy the credentials of the other parent.

Let’s take a recent and extreme example, horse trainer Vicky Haigh, aged 41:

  • “ . . . who was named and shamed earlier this year after she falsely accused her former boyfriend of being a paedophile . . . . . and for making up the allegations and coaching her daughter to repeatthem.” 19th Dec 2011.[6]

Rob George says he doesn’t like anecdotes and we would agree with him. Too often Women’s Aid and Refuge, for example, have won over or morally blackmailed their audience with horrific one-off tales. The BCS casts a different picture. Since the mid 1990s actual events of domestic violence have decreased year upon year (ref.”Modern Urban Myths – Domestic Violence Some Questions Answered”). [7] 

Research produced in 2008 by Joan Hunt and Alison Macleod – which George cites (see later) – is typical of the feminist use of the anecdote and one can understand why George cringes whenever its used.

Factually speaking, violence in the home and interpersonal abuse appears to be declining. Table 2.9 (right) show that ‘Non-molestation Orders’ far from increasing are subsiding.[8]

Non-molestation Orders go hand in hand with Occupation Orders and enable female spouse to rid the house of the owner, i.e. usually the husband. From the tables above (2.8 and 2.9), it is clear there has been no upward trend or notable increase between 2007 and 2011.

“Mega-deaths”

In a scene that could be straight out of “Dr Strangelove” George concedes that, well maybe, the better part of 100,000 cases will negatively impact children and that “. . . . no doubt there are a few cases where the judge gets it wrong.”

Well, thanks a bunch for that concession one might respond, but when a judge gets it a bit wrong its a ‘life sentence’ – it fouls up one entire life and ruins a child’s future.

How like the slightly deranged US General in the White House nuclear bunker describing the advantages of a ‘first strike’ who has to concede that: “  “I am not saying we won’t get our hair muzzed.”

His solution for when the odd judge gets it wrong is to go to the High Court and or the Appeal Court. Obviously he has never been a paying client there. If the very wealthy shrink from the costs of a high court action, how will the remaining 95% of us afford it ?

Error is piled upon error as George digs his hole ever deeper. Look, he says, I accept that not enough is done to stop mothers’ gatekeeping, i.e. keeping good fathers away from their kids, but these cases he claims “are a tiny and unrepresentative minority.” How can they be so tiny when gatekeeping and enforcement were the subjects of much debate during the LCD 2002 enhanced contact programme ?

Gatekeping is endemic in Britain and in all other countries that you can think of that have the same custody regime. If George doesn’t like anecdotes then he should liaise with fathers’ groups, work on the helplines, or better still read Warren Farrell’s book on the subject of gatekeeping (Father and Child Reunion). Maybe then he will take it seriously enough to undertake some research into the phenomenon rather then retorting that it doesn’t exist in sizeable quantities ?

It is neither rhetoric nor myth but a sad truth that some mothers are ‘hostile and vengeful’ – many others are manipulative. The divorce industry and legal establishment long ago coined a phrase for their conduct, “implacable hostility” (how old, one wonders, is this boy George ?).

The whole idea of the 2002 PSA-8 initiative launched by the LCD was to increase fatherly contact time. The outcry against gatekeeping and the perception of colluding by the courts which was shocking and a matter for immediate and serious reform finally produced a feigned attempt at reform that ended in an abortion.                                    

Rob George sees no contradiction is maintaining the 10% figure while admitting that:

  •  “ . . . records for 2010 . . . show that 95,500 cases went to court about children’s contact arrangements.”

The insanity is resolved later in the same paragraph. Apparently, only 300 cases ended with the court specifically refusing to allow the father to see his child. Which planet has this man been on for the past 20 years one wonders ? No one is in the least bit interested in the 300 order refusals. Why is Rob George playing so dumb ?

Table 2.4 (right) shows data for 2011 with the ‘order refused’ column indicating ‘parental responsibility’ was refused 45 times and contact refused on 333 occasions (shown in red), i.e. similar to 2010.

For George, this makes his case. Those 300 cases which ended with the court specifically refusing to allow the father to see his child proves his point. He states that it represents 0.31% of litigated cases of all separating families.

But to focus on this is to either misread the issue out of ignorance or deliberately refuse to understand what is at stake in the numbers.

People are not percentages and a crusade, a wave of change supported by 80% of those polled, cannot by definition exist on only 0.3% of a population.

It is not a matter of one or other type of order being ‘refused’, it is being granted a). a sensible amount of time  b). that such an order allows to fathers satisfacory access and b). how often residence is awarded or offered to fathers.

Fathers groups want to see the present 108,552 contact orders expanded to cover 100% of fathers, with the usual caveats. It is usually fathers who apply for contact as it is automatically gifted to mothers together with residence. Secondly therefore, a clearer demarcation is needed as to who is applying for  residence – the mother or the father and the number of times it is granted refused by parent – something along the lines of the pre-Children Act 1989 regime (for the youngsters among you !). An extra column could be added for shared parenting or, if the old formatwas revitalised, the ‘joint custody’ column simply renamed.

Were opponents to shared parenting to concede and allow the average minimum to be doubled from it current 14%. to 28% much of the ardour for reform would evaporate. But such in the political pig-headedness of such opponents that they stand to be cut down where they stand – en masse – and lose thier reputations to boot.

George concludes that in 96.52% of cases that went to court, judges made orders which involved at least some contact between both parents and their children. This is probably true, in 96% of cases residence would be awarded to the mother and the father allowed to visit but unfortunately in the context of making a difference and feeling part of the child’s life these numbers are an irrelevance.

“Falling down”

His total misreading of the situation immediately puts one in mind of a 1993 film “Falling down.” George is ‘Rick’, the hapless manager of a hamburger joint whose adherence to petty rules and ignoring the cardinal rule that “The customer is always right”  results in a gun being pointed in his direction by an otherwise calm, regular ‘Joe’ played by Michael Douglas. [9]

The Michael Douglas character has just about had enough of being fobbed off and jerked around by divorce courts, big business and bureaucracies. He wants a breakfast but ‘Rick’ tells him he can only order lunch.

  • “I don’t want to order something from the lunch menu !”

Finally, when he is offered his hamburger from the bungling manager it looks nothing like its portrayal on the wall:

  •  “You see, that’s what I’m talking about. Can anyone tell me what’s wrong this picture ?”

It’s a pity the scene didn’t take place in a Waffle House because that’s what George is doing – waffling. And I predict that by the time these academics have done their damage, shared parenting will look nothing like we envisaged it and we too will be left asking: “Can anyone tell me what’s wrong this picture ?”

To avoid mutiny in the streets it is not surprising that ‘family courts adopt a strongly pro-contact position.’ It is something of an unwarranted slur to suggest that courts “ . . bend over backwards to promote relationships between parents and their children in the most challenging of circumstances” when only between 5% and 10% of families can be termed ‘high conflict.’ The very number that Rob George says uses the family courts. So where does that leave the remaining 100,000 couples ?

According to many academics, who one has to suppose are confirmed bachelors or spinsters, all this time ‘thingy’ is irrelevant and very puzzling. Along the way some facts, a la Barclays bank, have been bent and this bending includes judges. For instance in answer to Mr Keith Vaz MP, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said in 2004: [10]

  • “So far as the principle is concerned [i.e. of bias against fathers being given custody], there is nothing in itatall. There is absolutely nothing in the law thatleaves the courts to choose one parent rather than another. We look at the cases on the basis of which is the better parent because the welfare of the child is paramount, but all judges are human. It may be that some judges will, I do not know, I have not come across it, but it is possible.”

How right she is – there is ‘absolutely nothing in the law’ thatleaves the father disadvantaged, it’s just a coincidence thatover 90% of awards go to mothers.

However, just prior to that at Question No 23, Keith Vaz asked Dame Elizabeth what was her view about the perception that the family court system is biased against fathers –something he had noted in his career as a barrister ? Her long reply is broken up into its components, and it was this:

  1. Well, it is untrue for a number of reasons. First of all, the Children Act requires us to treat spouses equally and parents equally, and my experience is that we do.
  2. I must have found, like both my brethren, for fathers on many, many occasions, but the situation is basically that when parents separate, the vast majority of children stay with mother and for the minority who stay with father,atthe end of the day probably what we call the status quo is the situation which occurs because the child is settled there, and in cases where father is caring for the children, that is where the children are likely to stay.
  3. I have not come across in recent years, certainly in the Court of Appeal when I was there or now as President sitting both in the Court of Appeal and the High Court, cases where I have come across any bias in favour of mother or prejudice against father.
  4. I think one of the problems is that the public do not know what we are saying and I feel quite strongly, and what I had to say was endorsed and repeated by James Munby in the judgment that hit the headlines, that we ought to be giving our judgments to a far greater extent in public, and I think if we did that, whether we would dispel the perceptions, I do not know, but at least those who wanted to read them would know what was actually going on, but it is not true.

This is so dishonest at several levels.

At item 2 the “found for father” reference means made a custody award (i.e. found) in favour of a father and her ‘on many, many occasions’ amounts to less than 20 cases, in her, quote, ‘long career.’ Worth reading too are questions No. 23 to No. 26.

George then refers to some “high-quality” research produced by Joan Hunt and Alison Macleod (but my view, over some years, is that some authors more or less guarantee the framing of the agenda and results). [11]

Essentially they investigated, in 2008, this question of ‘meaningful’ amounts of contact, or whether they were ‘token’ amounts. One can readily empathise with this “incredibly time-consuming research” by actually going to courts for days. But how George can then leap to the conclusion that Hunt & Macleod could pronounce with “absolute certainty” what was going on in the courts when their sample size of only 300 somewhat sabotages it.

From this sample of 300 cases they found that in almost all cases, the courts gave fathers exactly what was asked.

  • “If they asked to have the children stay with them one night a week, that’s what they got. If they asked for half the school holidays, that’s what they got.”

Everyone likes a happy ending but 96% of “fathers got whatthey wanted” is only the headline. Contact is the legal right to see one’s own child, it is not a quantum of time andit is no guarantee the agreement will be honoured. So to write that“judges made orders which involved at least some contact” moves the debate along not one jot.

The standard issue ‘contact’ time is 14% per annum of the child’s life. With flourishes for weekends and school holidays they can increase to around 25%. This sound quite reasonable for most fathers except when one considers that this time is on licence and subject to arbitrary withdrawal without notice. Would a tenant tolerate such terms in his tenancy agreement ? Indeed, would they tolerate an only daylight hours tenancy only with occasional permission to stay over-night at weekends ?

To compare and contrast the statement that 96% of “fathers got what they wanted” let us look at what they ended up with.

The graph (right) shows ONS statistical data indicating that less than ‘1 in 5’ children (18%) have a sleepover privilege with their father (click to enlarge). And only 1 in 10 has a sleepover ‘at least once a fortnight.’ A pitiful 4% of children are only allowed a sleepover during the school holidays. This means that they do not sleep over at weekends or during the week.

“Cathy come home”

Everyone would agree with George that it would be wrongheaded to seek far reaching reforms when only a tiny number of families are adversely affected by the failings of the present regime.

Any unrepresentative minority should not be allowed to dictate reforms of an entire system – but isn’t that precisely what is being condoned by those opposed to shared parenting when they keep pointing to its unsuitability for ‘high conflict’ families ? Frankly, the present system is also unsuitable for high conflict families so the obvious and easy solution is to fast track them onto a branch line for special attention.

In trying to fan the flames by raising the spectre of the potential dangers of systematically downplaying the dangers to children and mothers of domestic violence, Rob George again makes another slur, this time against fathers who he portrays as too keen to promote father-child relationships as if somehow this was selfish (but utterly unselfish for mothers).

American Prof Linda Neilson (Nov 2011) has been forthright in her criticism of fellow researchers who a). rely on reviews written by their academic friends and b). researchers who look at only a few shared parenting sources (a practice more common than one would imagine):

  • These questions have become increasingly relevant for at least three reasons. First, shared residential custody is becoming more prevalent. Until recently only 5% to 7% of [US] children lived at least one third of the time with their father. Most lived exclusively with their mother, spending only four or five nights a month—at most—in their father’s home (Kelly, 2007). But a change is clearly underway. For example, in Arizona and in Washington State, 30% to 50% of the children whose parents divorced in the past several years are living at least one third of the time with each parent (George, 2008; Venohr & Kaunelis, 2008), as are 30% of the children whose parents divorced in Wisconsin between 1996 and 2001 (Melli & Brown, 2008). Likewise, in Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden 18% to 20% of children whose parents have separated are in shared residential custody (Smyth, 2009; Spruijt & Duindam, 2010).

Do we really want to make custody an all-female zone ? An examination of child abuse by parent shows that mothers inflict far more then fathers. Ditto with mental instability levels. And it doesn’t just stop at that – see child homicides Table by perpetrator (Aus)  above. This table is far from unique. Across the entire English speaking world the same bias by gender is observed.

Those of a certain age will recall the heart wrenching docu-drama “Cathy come home” (BBC TV, 1966).

Were the circumstances Cathy and her new husband found themsleves in a ‘one-off’; or did it represent only 10% of couples; or was it endemic within a whole class of society ?

Whichever category it fell into the government of the day changed the law on homelessness – public opinion demanded it.

We are in the self-same situation now. A system that is known to be inadequate, creaking and blunt in the bounteousness of its  application is, in public’s opinion, more than ripe for fundamental reform.

Doesn’t admitting that “. . . . courts are often willing to give parental responsibility to parents who have absolutely no involvement in their children’s lives as a ‘label’ or ‘badge’ tell you something about the system’s failure ? 

Perversely, parents who want to engage with their children more fully are being thwarted even tuned away by the courts and then they are being failed by a hide bound intelligentsia.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call a halt to reform because it allegedly affects only 10% but yet endorse reforms when it affects a total of no more than 10%.

E N D


[1] Law Commission’s ‘Supplement to Working Paper No. 96’. by J. A. Priest and J. C. Whybrow (abridged version http://lawcommission.wordpress.com/1986/10/01/00001/ ).

[5] Table 2.5 Family matters Summary statistics on matrimonial proceedings, 2007-2011 http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/statistics/courts-and-sentencing/jcs-2011/family-matters-tables-chp2-2011.xls

 [9] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eREiQhBDIk

[10] Transcript of the parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs – oral evidence session, Tues 9 Nov 2004. http://www.c-g.org.uk/issues/shame/debs/select-comm-evidence.htm

[11] “Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce”
http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9145/1/outcomes-applications-contact-orders.pdf

Ref: http://legalliberal.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/shared-time-parenting-after-divorce.html

Israel gets McIntosh’ed

 In Dec 2011 I wrote that “Crusades were so 12th  century” but that it hadn’t put off  Jenn McIntosh from interfering in both Gentile and Jewish family affairs. This posting drawn from Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation (Jan 2012) is therefore à propos.  [1]
Guerrilla warfare has metaphorically broken in Tel Aviv.  In correspondence with an Israeli father late last year I could not see, and could not quite believe, that they could or would be able to bring a court action against Jenn McIntosh and her coterie. But that, apparently, is precisely what they intend to do. Jennifer McIntosh who has been called the Australian Male Bashing Guru in Israel, is calling on the Israeli government to avoid shared parenting.

  • Is this cultural imperialism, or what ?
  • What presumption has she to influence, uninvited, the policies of  another sovereign state ?
 Against a backdrop of an Israeli government at long last recognising that divorced fathers and their children also deserve equal rights along with divorced women comes militant feminist anger.
These father rights considerations appear to have incensed a militant feminist conference held at the Rackman Center in Bar Ilan University who let their fury and displeasure be known in Israel (Jan 2012).
 
The Dads4Kids posting continues:
The anti-male conference was designed to sabotage parental equality and indoctrinate social workers to treat all men and fathers in divorce or separation as unfit or dangerous parents. Men’s and children’s rights organisations vehemently protested it, members of Knesset tried to stop it, litigation in Texas has been launched and pleas to the United Nations (UN) CEDAW rapporteur Rashida Manjoo were sent, seeking the termination of the organizer, Ruth Halperin Kaddari’s membership in CEDAW  (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women).
 
The Rackman Center at Bar Ilan University is headed by militant feminist Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kadari, in close association with another leading speaker, Dr. Dafna Hacker of Tel Aviv University’s Gender Studies program, another militant feminist with strong ties to the New Israel Fund.
 
Hacker is a founder of Itach-Maaki, an organisation that recently volunteered to assist in the legal defense of sadistic man-killer Erika Orbush Frishkin. Father’s rights groups in Israel state that Halperin-Kaddari and Hacker publicly encourage women to use children to extort financial benefits from former spouses.
 
The morning session at Bar-Ilan was an indoctrination session to train social workers in justifying parental alienation – PAS – and the use of sophisticated language to deny fathers parental rights and access to their children. Australian male bashing guru Jennifer McIntosh participated by video conference and tried to persuade Israel social workers that only mothers connect to children because of “neuron emissions from the right side of their brains“.
[Dangerous stuff to a people who have suffered from the application of Eugenic mania in the past- Ed].
There was no discussion of the documented importance of a father’s role in the well being of their children.
 
The second session was the unveiling of two committee reports, one on custody and visitations, and the other on child support. Both committees announced reforms which the ultra-feminist organizations are desperately trying to sabotage.
The second session was attended by the Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman, and the committee chairmen, Dan Schnit and Pinchas Schiffman.
 
Israel pro-family and men’s rights organisations were outraged that such important conferences are held on the militant feminists’ home turf, and are ‘moderated’ by the same women who try to prevent any reform in family law from taking place. Moderator Ruth Halperin Kaddari has already expressed her position that the “tender years” presumption (automatic custody to women) should not be eliminated and instead stretched out to apply to children and youths until the age of 18.
[Isn’t this inverted sexism ? – Ed ]
 
In the past, Ruth Halperin Kaddari has been caught falsifying statistical data and disseminating false results of public opinion polls and surveys.
[ That rings a bell with many of us who have examined so-called feminist research. We can all name half a dozen without breaking into a sweat – Ed ]
 
Saviona Rotlevi was another speaker at the first session,  and it was she who was in charge of a sub-Commission on parental equality between 1997-2003 (a female minister in Canada similarly sat on a similar report almost 10 years ago – Ed).
 
After six years of deliberations, she refused to issue a final recommendation, on the ground that she personally thinks that men are not mature enough to handle tasks of caring for children.
 
This appears to have been the 9th annual conference held in this format. All eight previous conferences were secret and the public was not made aware of them. Members of the pro-family and men’s rights organizations stated:
  • “Now we understand why we are being treated with such immense hostility. Apparently, the Israel Ministry of Welfare has been training its social workers at the institution where hatred of men is a form of art.”
 
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[1] Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation on line newsletter available at: www.fathersonline.org