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‘Time for change’, but not the way the Social Mobility Commission sees it

Time for Change’, announces the Social Mobility Commission in their new report out today.

In it, former minister Alan Milburn and his team talk about 20 years of public policy leaving us with a nation divided by region, income and wealth, and generation.

Despite the 50 per cent real terms increase in education since 1997, we are still divided. The hugely expensive early years Sure Start programme has had little to no effect. Throwing money at the problem has clearly not worked. A new approach is needed.

The report recommends a cross-departmental plan, ten year targets, a social mobility test (although of course we already have a little-used ‘family test’), and more liaison with regions and local councils.

However forgive me from being somewhat sceptical that this political reorganisation will get any nearer to bringing our nation together.

One factor remains embarrassingly absent from this high profile report. Family stability.

In so far as the word ‘family’ appears – eleven times – it is mostly in the context of the delivery of ‘family services’, which includes anything from early education to parenting support.

The Social Mobility Commission seems more interested in what the state delivers to families than in what families might deliver themselves. What matters to children and young adults is what kind of support and encouragement they get from their family. In large part, that boils down to stability at home.

The word ‘stability’ features once, and only in relation to income.

The word ‘marriage’ doesn’t even feature at all.

There appears to be no mention or thought whatsoever that ‘family’ might play a role in social mobility, in getting the best for our children, in providing a stable platform from which to launch children into adulthood.

It surely matters that we are also a nation divided by marriage and formal commitment. Although almost all of today’s 60 year olds have ever married, not all of whom successfully of course, only half of today’s millennials are likely to do so. Nearly half of our children are born to parents who have not made the formal commitment of getting married.

That would be fine if unmarried couples were just as likely to stay together while bringing up their children. But they are not. Only three out of ten unmarried parents will still be together when their children reach GCSE age compared to nearly eight out of ten married parents.

The result is that we are a nation divided by stability. Nearly half of our teenage children are not living with both natural parents. Of those who do still live with both parents, over 90 per cent of those parents are married.

Education, income, housing, employment, health: of course all of these things matter. But these are the topics that politicians have been discussing and addressing endlessly over the last 20 years.

It is indeed time for change, but not in the way the Social Mobility Commission suggest.

It is the trend away from marriage that has undermined stability and sabotaged the social mobility of the millennial generation.

It is time to pay attention to ‘family stability’, and that means ‘marriage’.

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