Thursday, 02 January 2014

More weddings won't reduce poverty There’s a peculiar argument that because there is a statistical association between single parenthood and poverty, the policy response should be to promote marriage (e.g.). Some influential folk on the right (e.g.) seem to relish this line of thinking because it gives them a sense of moral superiority coupled with a reason not to have to address the realities of poverty. People in poverty are so much easier to blame. But it’s actually not that difficult to work out, as this Atlantic article by Emily Badger puts it: ‘Fractured family structures don't cause poverty. Poverty causes these family structures. Reduce poverty through more direct means, and we might actually reverse the retreat of marriage along the way.’ As she says, the basic logic ‘casts poverty as the result of a collapse in family values, not as the product of complex structural economic and social factors.’ Badger based her material on this article from the Council on Contemporary Families and quotes the Council’s researcher Kristi Williams: ‘We know marriage has a wide range of benefits, particularly for raising children. And it's not unreasonable to think that it would be nice if all children could enjoy these benefits. The problem is that there’s no evidence that the kind of marriages that poor, single parents enter into will have these same benefits.’ The article points to a range of research that helps explain why so many policy attempts to reassert traditional family structures have failed. I accept that right wing policy makers in the UK today will struggle with the possibility that there might be a direction of causality contrary to the one they favour. But it’s just possible some light might penetrate the blinkers. Even Conservative Home thinks the minister for welfare and pensions should meet the Trussell Trust to discuss food banks. Poverty is actually quite an important issue, and to have povertyism practised consistently at a high level in policy thinking is disgraceful.

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