The nasty party are back.
Single mums are to blame for the ills of society. Poor people are “troubled”. Together with the the disabled and the sick, they to blame for “the unquantified human misery of broken relationships, abandoned children and shattered kinship bonds”.
That’s the lesson of Jeremy Lefroy’s latest article.
The Telegraph published his article on Monday morning. By mid-afternoon, over 200 people had contacted me about the article. Some of them were poor, some of them were single parents, some of them were disabled. Others were just distressed by the return of dangerous myths about single parent families.
Family breakdown, Jeremy Lefroy tells us, is breaking Britain. It’s proved by the Government’s “troubled families programme” which confirms that “the cost to the taxpayer of this crisis is probably in the region of £50 billion a year”.
Jeremy Lefroy’s government says there are 500,000 of these “troubled families”. Last week, there were 120,000.
This week, the cost of these families is £50 billion (£30 billion in most other government estimates). Last week, it was £9 billion.
The reason for the difference? The figures are nonsense.
The government’s definition of “troubled families” is based on criteria taken from a retired 2004 study. Under those criteria a “problem family” is created where five of the following seven conditions are met: having a low income: a parent with a disability; poor housing; a mother with a mental health problem; lack of qualifications; no one in the family working, or just poverty, defined as struggling to afford basic goods.
In a country where renters live in garden sheds, 10 million people are registered disabled (of which 6.9 million are working age) and one in four adults have a mental health problem each year, it’s a miracle they only found 500,000.
My family would qualify. So probably would yours. So would most of the disabled parents living in Staffordshire.
It’s the criminalising of poverty, and it is wrong.
The Tories say these “troubled families” each costs the taxpayer £75,000 per year.
Again, it’s nonsense.
That £75,000 includes everything families included on the “troubled” list get from the state - including health and education support.
If you are from a middle-income family and ask for help accessing hospital services, you’re using services to which you have a right (unless you’re from Stafford, in which case not.) If you ask for help with your children’s schooling, you are helping to create social capital, repaying the state’s investment in education, perhaps creating the next generation of teachers and doctors.
If you are from a disabled or a poor family, that school funding is part of the “colossal sum” wasted on (once more with feeling) “broken relationships, abandoned children and shattered kinship bonds”.
Most of those 500,000 families have done nothing but to be poor, in a country where the government want to take from the poor.
And what is Jeremy Lefroy’s solution for all of this dangerous failure to be rich?
Forget the bedroom tax hitting vulnerable people; the fact that the majority of benefits are paid to working families; that the number of employed people claiming housing benefit has doubled on Mr Lefroy’s watch, or that six million people in Britain are paid less than the living wage….
It’s single parent families who are the problem.
Mr Lefroy’s solution is to have “the courage not only to state that stable families and marriage are a major part of the glue that holds our society together but also to demonstrate through our policies and actions that we believe it”.
There is not a jot of evidence in Mr Lefroy’s article to show that single parents are responsible for the social problems he detects. Growing up in a single parent family isn’t even one of the criteria used in the identification of “troubled families”.
Yet Mr Lefroy says “children from broken homes do far less well at school and are far more likely to turn to crime and drugs than those from married families”.
Forty two per cent of marriages end in divorce. Sometimes - like for my parents - it’s ultimately the best thing. For others, it isn’t divorce that causes poverty, but poverty associated with divorce, the grinding financial strain taking a toll on relationships. It is rarely a choice.
I was brought up in a single parent family, by a mum who was left with three children - one under six months.
When my mum read Jeremy Lefroy’s article she said: “We’ve been here before. We were here in the eighties.”
And because we’ve been here before, we know where this conflation of criminal behaviour and marital break-down ends.
It ends in cuts to the benefits that keep struggling single parents afloat. It ends in the bedroom tax, for which Jeremy Lefroy voted, and in tax cuts for married couples - tax cuts which punish people like my mum, who wanted nothing more than to stay married and didn’t have the choice.
It ends with my mum being told her 20 year marriage and her three children were worthless - because she couldn’t make my dad stay.
It ends up with kids like me dependent on free school meals and on charity.
Where is Jeremy Lefroy’s social cohesion then?