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Real Issues No. 326 - Family Breakdown

Real Issues No. 326 - Family Breakdown, Democracy, Election Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 326 6 November 2008

Maxim Institute Lecture: Breakthrough New Zealand? The big chill Election time!

IN THE NEWS Not too late to make your vote count New Issue Snapshot on Britain's major legislative change in the area of bioethics

Maxim Institute Lecture: Breakthrough New Zealand?

On Monday 3 November in Auckland, UK family policy expert Dr Samantha Callan delivered a lecture for Maxim Institute about why tackling family breakdown is an important social justice issue.

'I want to talk about what we're doing in Britain to tackle family breakdown. I'm a long way from home but that's great, we're on such a similar page demographically from what I've been reading. And we have finally begun to acknowledge the extent and severity of our experience of family breakdown and I think that the seed has truly been sown into the policy-making arena to act on that knowledge to prevent family breakdown as well as to alleviate its effects.

'We've been very well received across the political spectrum, especially by the current Conservative opposition which could very easily form the next government. We've been working for nearly three years to change the narrative around family to get away from the mantra that says family structure is irrelevant. My publications argue crucially from the research that we will never have the kind of society that genuinely has the welfare of children as its core concern if we continue to deny the research that two parents tend to provide better outcomes for children than one. A quarter of all British children are in one parent families and recent polling showed that if you're not brought up in a two parent family you're 75 percent more likely to fail at school, 70 percent more likely to be a drug addict, 50 percent more likely to have alcohol problems and over a third as likely to go on benefits.

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'At the same time we're not stigmatising people who are raising children on their own or outside of a formal commitment. It is a really good thing that children are not ostracised anymore because their parents aren't married, however on average they are penalised because they are more likely to see their parents split, to experience a significant loss of income, to have to move home etc.

'Its class-based prevalence is the rationale for putting it firmly on the political and policy agenda. In other words the high break-up rates of lower income people, the greater likelihood that those in poverty will not be married and that they'll have children outside of commitment and repeat the cycle of low income and low attainment has, in the past, made it really hard to talk about family breakdown without sounding judgemental and as if middle class values are being unjustly imposed but in the UK. We've had to turn this around and say if we are determined to tackle (what has become known in the UK) as our broken society we have to treat the high likelihood that poor children will grow up fatherless and from a fractured or dysfunctional family as a correlate of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

'Research is pointing to a marriage gap in the US and the UK. Aspirations to marry are universally high across the social spectrum but the culture and financial barriers to marriage are hard to overcome in low income communities; and a great concentration of single parenthood here may not be an expression of diversity but paradoxically of reduced choice with inability to fulfil marital ambitions and so it's another dimension of inequality.'

Listen to the lecture 'Breakthrough New Zealand?'

Watch Dr Samantha Callan on TVNZ's Breakfast programme


As we hit the last week of the election campaign, we are being swamped by what the political parties and their allies in civil society are saying on a range of issues: taxes, education, law and order and the economy.

But let's spare a thought for all those who wanted to speak and couldn't this year. All those who thought about telling us what was on their minds, and didn't, or scaled back their plans, or spoke less forcefully because of the Electoral Finance Act.

Electoral Commission CEO, Helena Catt, has spoken of 'uncertainty' having a 'chilling effect' on free speech -- because third parties, groups and individuals with opinions don't want to end up in trouble, they tread carefully, or do not speak at all, uncertain how the law will be interpreted. The New Zealand Herald reported on a number of these groups -- Family First's pamphlet campaign had to be scaled back to fit the spending cap, the Cycling Advocates Network and the Employers and Manufacturers Association have landed in hot water, and many other groups such as the PPTA and Federated Farmers are opting for 'issue-based' campaigns they think will not be caught by the law. The latest electoral law stoush focuses on Rodney Hide's famous yellow jacket, which has an ACT logo and slogan on it. Publicity stunt or not, there is something mildly surreal about the whole thing.

Transparency in politics is generally a good thing -- the impulse behind the Electoral Finance Act is to make our politics cleaner and more democratic. But when we have genuine ordinary people, and civil society organisations frozen into silence by fear of legal reproof, we have ceased to live in the realm of reasonable limits, and the law has become draconian, repressive and anti-democratic. Free speech is commonly described as the life-blood of our democracy, and the more of it we have, the better for everyone. When we stop people speaking their minds without proper justification, our debate is poorer, our democracy weaker and our politicians less accountable. Thankfully, the limits on expressing democratic opinion will be lifted on 9 November, and free speech will resume -- but it is a shame that the chill descended in the first place.


Voting is one of the most tangible ways we pull together as a community, reminding our government it is accountable to us. This is important, and voting a vital democratic duty. But we should also remember at the time we vote our mutual accountability to each other: in politics, and in our communities.

We ought to think long-term, and about everyone -- every dollar we spend today is one that must be paid for tomorrow. Likewise, we should vote for the person we think will wisely steward the long-term health of our country, the man or woman who can steer the ship with steadiness of purpose, and clarity of vision for the future.

Further, we should consider the tap-roots of political parties -- ideas and governing philosophies. Which prospective government will best empower communities and families? Which one has a vision for social cohesion, and a heart to lift up the weakest in our society? What do our leaders really believe in? What is their view of the world, people and our country? Do we share it?

What really matters to us? We will all have a differing hierarchy of issues, but we should do the work to find out which government will really respond effectively to hard issues like crime, education, health, the economy and social disconnection. In an information age, there is little excuse for ignorance. This applies to coalition arrangements too -- we are choosing between a centre-right and a centre-left bloc now, and we should be aware of the fact.

Lastly, we should not give in to the temptation to say either that our vote 'doesn't really matter,' or believe that voting is the only chance we get to shape our country. Voting does matter, and it matters profoundly. But we also have a thousand other opportunities to build the country we want, and our children deserve: volunteering at the local soup kitchen, at the Scouts, the marae or the Rotary club, getting out to meet our neighbours, caring about what goes on in our street, on our patch. We shape our country into a kinder place every time we look out for one another. If we really want a decent society and a solid future, we shouldn't just hope for it, or vote for it. We have to build it too. On 9 November, regardless of political outcome, our country will still be here. And we will all still have work to do.

Learn more about the parties and the policies -- NZ Votes: You decide



The 2008 Election is almost here, but there is still time to enrol to vote. As long as you enrol before election day, you can vote by casting a 'special declaration vote.'

To find out more about how to register to vote or to find out which electorate you are in, visit the Electoral Commission website


The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFE) is new legislation that will regulate reproductive laws in Britain. It is in its final stages in Parliament, having passed all its required readings but still awaiting the Royal Assent, when it will officially become law.

The HFE was introduced to the House of Lords in November 2007, and following prolonged and at times heated debate, passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 22 October 2008. The Bill sought to update the existing law around the science and ethics of reproduction due to substantial technological advances in the area. It makes some alarming changes, and in doing so highlights the loss of the understanding that value and dignity are inherent to human life, allowing life to instead become seen as a commodity or plaything, where importance is placed on perfection and utility.

Read Maxim Institute's Issue Snapshot - Britain's declining value on life: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill


'... research indicates that aspirations remain very high for marriage across the socioeconomic spectrum and what we now have is differential or unequal access to a popular institution. The poorer you are, the higher the barriers to marriage, for cultural and economic reasons.'

Dr Samantha Callan

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values your interest and support.

Click here to find out how you can support Maxim Institute (

Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world.


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