Does it help the family?An article by S Gurumurthy
Families “are not just the basic unit of society”; they are “the best” and “the ultimate source of our society’s strengths and weaknesses”. “As almost every social problem that we face comes down to family instability,” the families “matter” and are thus “the most important institution”.
This is how three weeks ago, David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader in Britain, lamented about his country whose children are increasingly becoming dad-less and even mom-less. Cameron had asked Iain Duncan Smith, who heads Centre for Social Justice, a think tank, to study the social security policies of the British Government.
Duncan’s gave an interim report to the Tory Party a month ago, detailed how British families are breaking and how cohabitation without marriages is becoming commonplace and how that is turning into a social security burden on the government. The report is suitably titled as `Breakdown Britain’.
In Britain the cost of `dad-left’ families and of `dad-less’ and `mom-less’ children _ $20 billions, (in rupee terms Rs 90,000 crore every year!) _ is met by the State. This is 20% of Indian Government’s gross income! Duncan says that more than half of the cohabiting couples separate before their child sees its fifth birthday, but the rate of separation before the fifth birthday of the child in a wedlock is one in twelve marriages. Despite being mocked as outdated by more and more living without wedlock, tradition still offers hope.
On the quality of children coming out of broken, single parent families, Duncan says that if a child is not brought up in a two-parent families it is 70 per cent more likely to be addicted to drugs, 50 per cent more likely to have alchohol problems, 40 per cent more likely to have bad debts, and 35 per cent more likely to be unemployed.
He says “there is a fundamental lack of honesty in political debate”. The political class has “recognised the problem”, but he says “refused to discuss its cause _ the family breakdown”. Duncan goes on, “if we are serious about tackling the causes of poverty and social burden, then we must look at the ways of supporting families and also supporting marriages so that couples are encouraged to get together and stay together”.
Duncan says that the simple test for each and every policy is: “Does it help families?” He sees a direct link between traditional family values and sustainable economics. It is an economic issue that torments politics, but politics has no remedy for this. Duncan and Cameron tacitly plead for building traditional families, but they are afraid of saying so openly. Such families existed everywhere for hundreds of centuries, but collapsed in Britain and in the West generally, only in the last few decades. How did this happen? Because excessive individual rights-centric life is glorified as `modernity’. Here the man has his rights, the woman has hers, the elders have theirs, the children have theirs. But collectively, the family that represents all has none. Nor has the society any.
In modern western constitutionalism, man and woman exist as individuals, but the family and society do not. But when the State grants rights, few realise that that grant is at the cost of the family and the community. As the families get de-legitimised and therefore weak, the State is forced to take over the private functions of families. Thus families which are a private affair, are nationalised and their functions are turned into government departmental affair.
Ironically, the same State in the West is privatising all its public functions, namely water supply, roads, municipal services and other public utilities and urging others must follow. With the result economics stands on its head in the West, with private families being nationalised and public functions being privatised. This is the fundamental of market economics in the West. This promotes individuals at the cost of families, consumption at the cost of savings and finally the present at the cost of future.
This perverse economics of the West that is integral to globalisation is being sold here in India where families undertake and keep privatised much of the burden which the western states assume under their social security schemes! Will our economists, intellectuals and media rethink their position so that like Britain and the rest of the West, India is not driven to the wall? Comment:firstname.lastname@example.org