If you want more male role models, tax breaks for the rich won’t help

Plans to offer tax breaks to married couples only restigmatise single parents


In the bleakest corners of our biggest cities, children, we are now told, are wandering about in “man deserts”.

Their fathers have all left, if they were ever there in the first place. Their schools are all full of female teachers. A whole generation, plodding along like dromedary camels, unsupped on the milk of manly kindness.

A report published later this week by the Centre for Social Justice, Iain Duncan Smith’s right-leaning think-tank, will claim that in some areas, particularly around Liverpool, 75 per cent of children are growing up in families headed by one parent – almost always the mother. One in four primary schools has no male teachers, and those that do have very few.

One can only wonder what David Attenborough would make of life in the man desert (though it is a poorly calculated phrase. Australia’s Great Sandy Desert is not so named for its scarcity of sand). A rolling savannah of unwashed cars and ungrouted tiles, where cupboards slowly fill with unopenable jars and bin bags pile up, while  the downy growths on the upper lips of adolescents grow ever more wispy, as they await that first fatherly stroke of the Mach 3 that will never come.

The consequences are predictably dire. Family breakdown costs the economy £46bn a year, it claims. The children of the man desert are 50 per cent more likely to do badly at school, struggle to make friends, find it difficult to control their behaviour, or to overcome anxiety and depression.

It is no surprise that it is also the Centre for Social Justice that came up with the highly controversial idea of giving tax breaks to married couples, a policy that the Prime Minister recently declared he would introduce before the next election. So their agenda is clear.

This tax break option is restated here, as part of a featherweight set of solutions to the problem. The others are: more should be done to remove the stigma of seeking counselling and relationship help. That they can’t come up with any better may be the most illuminating part of the report. However serious the problem – and it is serious – short of direct social engineering, there is almost nothing government can do.

Stigma, really, is at the heart of the problem. It has been a hard fought battle, over the past 100 or so years, to remove the crippling stigma attached to divorce or, worse, a child being born out of wedlock. There are no statistics available for the impact on children of growing up in hate-filled houses with two parents who despise each other, but it’s unlikely to be all that positive, and plenty of children emerge just fine from their single-parent upbringings.

The range of options at the Government’s disposal amount to little more than deliberate restigmatisation – to turn back the clock on liberal progress. When the Prime Minister and others have sought to make the case for marriage to be recognised in the tax system they have always pointed out that it is “not about the money, but about the message”.

In free societies, however, governments do not have propriety over the message their policies send, and for the millions of people who might be single, unmarried, or divorced, the message is just a highly unhelpful and profoundly insulting one. Of course, it is also a gentle restigmatising of, for the most part, poor people; and a convenient way to slip a few extra quid back into the pockets of the happily married folk, who are far less likely to need it. So at least it is consistent.

Winnie-the-Pooh has gone digital

A new app contains the original stories with some extra “content”, including an illustration of the bear of little brain using a smartphone to take a photo of the Shard. Oh, the horror. But what has rather predictably shocked and appalled is that the stories have been abridged, to cater for the shorter attention span of  21-century kids.

“Today’s children’s attention spans are slightly different to how they were in 1926,” said Kristian Knak, the app’s developer. “We have a minute to get them on board. If not, they will move on to the next app. We have to make sure the story moves on at a good pace.”

For middle-aged Pooh aficionados, it is the end of days, otherwise known as progress. For anyone who’s witnessed it, no one forgets the terrifying sight of a toddler, not yet fully blessed with the gift of speech, swiping through multimedia on a tablet computer until he gets to the one he likes, and pressing play. It’s not altogether surprising that their brains will probably emerge hardwired rather differently from the rest of us, and any attempt to put Pooh back in to the matrix of childhood should be commended, not condemned.

Twitter: @tompeck

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album