Are we Sleepwalking into a culture of Disposable Dads?
Britain is sleepwalking into a culture of “disposable dads” where fewer children than ever are living with their father, according to a report released this week.
The Breakthrough Britain 2015 study found that just 57 per cent of teenage boys were currently living with their father. It predicted that by 2020 almost half of pupils sitting their GCSEs would come from a single parent families.
Children whose parents had separated were significantly more likely to fail at school, have low self esteem, struggle with peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression, the report suggested.
“For too long family breakdown in this country has gone unchallenged – despite the devastating impact it has on adults, children and communities,” said Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank that carried out the study.
Dr Samantha Callan, one of the report’s co-authors, said the “social norm” of having children outside marriage needed to change in order to reverse the growing number of families without fathers.
“There’s a prevailing view in society that when things don’t go well in a relationship, it means the end is near,” she said. “But all relationships come under pressure; you need to have made a commitment like marriage so you know you’re not going to bail.”
The report suggests registry office fees should be scrapped for couples who attend “marriage preparation courses” and that further tax benefits should be available to married couples.
“We’re not talking about bribing people to get married, “ Dr Callan said. “This is a very important cultural issue, there are no silver bullets here. The Government wants to avoid doing things that makes them look like they’re getting involved with people’s personal lives, but this isn’t the nanny state - it’s the canny state.
“Family breakdown is one of the fastest routes into poverty and drawing benefits. Many people can stand alone as a couple but when they split up they find they just can’t do it, which obviously has an impact on children too.”
Family breakdown costs the country £50bn a year through welfare payments and extra strain on the justice system, the authors of the study estimate.
The report also recommends the setting up of “family hubs” to provide relationship support for struggling parents, as well as giving unmarried fathers the right to be named on the birth certificate of their child even if the mother objects.
Glen Poole, the author of Equality For Men, welcomed the report but said that to prevent the rise of “disposable dads” more needed to be done to encourage fathers to stay involved in childcare after separation.
“It’s one thing to try to reduce the number of couples who split up, but you also have to be pragmatic and accept that in some cases, unfortunately, that is going to happen,” he said. “What you have to ask then, is: how do you make it the norm that men stay involved in childcare?”
“In Sweden they have the same separation rate as we do, but separated fathers there are three times as likely to share childcare than separated dads in the UK. It’s because there’s a culture of dads being involved - they have the same parental leave from work and equal rights when it comes to children.”
He added that growing up without a same-sex role model was one of the “major disadvantages” faced by young men when compared to women.
“It’s crucially important that boys have male role models around them,” Poole said. “Even if they’re not positive role models, at least then they can decide for themselves, ‘oh, I don’t want to be like him’.”
David Bartlett of the Fatherhood Institute, a think-tank and charity which promotes children’s relationships with fathers and father figures, agreed that the focus should be on encouraging fathers to share childcare rather than on financial incentives for couples to get or remain married.
“What children need is a close, positive, on-going stable relationship with fathers and father figures,” Bartlett said. "That’s irrespective of whether they are married to or even living in the same household as the mother.
“Medical professionals should talk to new parents about sharing childcare right from the start. We need to make sure both parents are involved at all stages rather than giving people a bit of money to stay married.”