Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and former Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
Family is not always a comfortable topic, especially in the political world. Yet it has been proven to be the biggest determining factor in a child’s life outcomes.
When I talk to people, they tell me that family plays the most important role in how lives turn out. But when I talk to politicians, many are reluctant to consider policy interventions that focus on the family.
This needs to change, and family needs to be placed at the heart of the Westminster agenda.
I grew up in a single-parent family, and we struggled in all the ways that single-parent families struggle. Life was harder and money was tighter.
Now that I am a father myself, married for 17 years, I have a renewed appreciation of the sacrifices my mother made to give me and my brother the best possible chance in life, despite the difficult circumstances.
This is my lived experience, and it has fundamentally shaped my politics. It is why, later in life, I decided to run a single-parent support group, and why I am a champion for marriage and families.
The evidence is clear. Having a loving, supportive home in your formative years has a huge benefit that you carry with you for the rest of your life.
For the most part, you will have more financial security and better life experiences when you are young. Knowing that you have a family you can rely on if things go wrong makes a huge difference to your risk appetite. It makes it easier to spend more time in education, pursue more lucrative careers, or go on an adventure abroad.
You will almost certainly have better health over the course of your life, particularly your mental health. The relationships you form will be healthier, and you are more likely to create a similarly supportive and loving family.
Of course, family comes with responsibilities, which can be very challenging. Young carers take on the difficult burden to look after their loved ones, missing out on opportunities that their peers experience. Parents regularly face difficult sacrifices to support their children, particularly if they have low incomes or jobs that require them to spend time away from home.
But overall, you are always better off growing up in a loving and supportive home. When families fall apart, or when a household is harmful or abusive, the consequences for a child can be severe.
We know the worst that can happen. We see it in young people seeking out what they are missing from their families by turning to crime, gangs, or substance misuse.
Without a supportive home, your education outcomes will likely be poorer. It does not matter how good your school is if your home life does not provide the stability, security, and encouragement you need to learn and grow. And if you were unlucky enough to have your school years affected by the pandemic, the long-term harm to your education may be much more serious.
If you do not have a family you can rely on, you will feel an unavoidable sense of insecurity. You may settle for less in life because aiming for more is a bigger risk for you than it is for others.
Given the devastating impact it can have on life outcomes, we should be doing everything we can to help families and keep them together. But the problem is getting worse, not better.
Cristina Odone of the Centre for Social Justice has rightly raised concerns that the UK is trending away from stable families, with increasing numbers of children affected by divorce and separations.
Her research found we have reached a point where nearly half (44 per cent) of children born in 2000 were raised by one biological parent. Amongst Black Caribbean families, this is 57 per cent. These are extraordinary numbers and not something we can ignore.
The Government has had to make difficult decisions about the big challenges ahead: a cost of living crisis, NHS backlogs, and a major crime wave that has shaken our big cities.
But while some of the contexts are new, these are still the same fundamental issues our society has grappled with for generations: poverty, crime prevention, and public health. All of these issues are significantly affected by families and how children are brought up.
At the heart of government, we need to introduce an unrelenting, sincere focus on keeping families together. It should be led by a cross-Whitehall families minister so that all departments work towards this objective. Policies should be reviewed to ensure they do not create incentives for families to break apart. We should measure the effect of government policy on children’s life outcomes.
This is as close to a magic bullet solution as we can get for the biggest issues we face. And it is time we used it.