Kids from broken families are suffering poor outcomes and it is costing the nation up to a staggering £100 billion a year, a Government minister says.
Children raised in single parent households are nine times more likely to begin a life of crime than those who were raised by both parents, according to a stark warning by Iain Duncan Smith.
Speaking yesterday the Work and Pensions Secretary slammed Labour for undermining the role of the family, warning it had led to more crime, more poverty and poorer prospects for children.
Mr Duncan Smith, speaking at the annual conference of the Relate counselling service, said: “It is important that we recognise the role of marriage in building a strong society, especially if we want to give children the best chance in life.”
“Sadly the last Government seemed determined to undermine marriage – for example, by removing references to it from official forms.”
He added: “Evidence shows that family influences educational outcomes, job prospects, and even life expectancy.”
He also cited evidence, collected by a number of official bodies, showing the difficulties faced by children from lone-parent families.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “Lone-parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than two-parent families.”
He added: “Only 30 per cent of young offenders grew up with both parents. Children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders.”
The senior Tory also cautioned that people have “unsustainable” expectations of marriage.
And he warned how the cost of “fairy tale” weddings can leave couples starting their lives together in debt, which can itself be a precursor for failure.
Mr Duncan Smith cited the example of Norway where couples are encouraged to walk through their breakdown and explain the implications of their separation on their children.
He said that this process makes people think twice about their decisions and that the results have shown that couples do stay together as a result.
The Centre for Social Justice think-tank has previously put the cost of family breakdown at between £20-24 billion per year.
But during yesterday’s speech Mr Duncan Smith indicated that the actual cost to society could be up to £100 billion when a range of factors such as crime and lost productivity are taken into account.
Last month a major new study showed that children raised in single parent households are twice as likely to misbehave as those in traditional two-parent families.
The study also warned that children with younger mothers had a “much more difficult start in life”.
The research revealed that twelve per cent of children raised in single parent households displayed serious behavioural problems by the age of seven. This figure rose to 15 per cent for stepchildren.
By contrast just six per cent of the children raised by both their natural parents showed the same behavioural problems.
These figures come from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking around 14,000 children born between 2000 and 2002.
The significant impact of divorce and family disruption on children’s lives was exposed in results from the National Child Development Study in 2008.
A researcher involved with the study, Kathleen Kiernan, said: “Children from disrupted families tend to do less well in school and subsequent careers than their peers. They are also more likely to experience the break-up of their own partnerships.”
And in April 2008 a report from The Good Childhood Inquiry warned that family breakdown is a major cause of harm to children’s mental health.
One of the report’s authors, Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, drew attention to the harmful impact of family breakdown on children.
He said: “It is as much about the problems arising from family breakdown as the event itself. Young people don’t like being in different homes on different days of the week and get upset by strife between their parents.”
Also in 2008 results from the Millennium Cohort Study revealed that one in four children of cohabiting parents suffer family breakdown before they start school at the age of five.
This was compared with just one in ten children of married parents who experience a divorce or separation by the same stage.