Economic Crisis = Social Crisis - Family and Poverty in the UK

Another trend is happening, simultaneously: The worldwide rise of anxiety, despair, self-harm and general malaise. Children as young as three are diagnosed with depression. (1)

Although the scope of this article is restricted mostly to exposing national events and conditions, there is absolutely no doubt that the root cause of these events lies in the machinations of a savage globalised capitalism that manifests itself in a myriad of social ills the world over. The situation is negative throughout the capitalist heartlands, for example some 19 million children live in poverty in the EU, about a fifth of the bloc’s citizens below the age of 18. However, a case could be made to show that the United Kingdom does demonstrate a more advanced version of the problem, for here, at least according to Ian Duncan Smith, “Family breakdown is the worst in Europe”. (2)

Tory and Labour Hypocrisy

Unlike the bourgeois social commentators who separate phenomena and apply superficial solutions without challenging the general framework which produces them, we maintain that the problems facing all sectors of the working class derive from, and cannot be resolved within, the framework of the international capitalist system. This article merely approaches the situation from what is arguably the most basic unit of capitalist social organisation, the family structure, but even at this point it is necessary to point out that there is no demand, no solution on offer, outside the replacement of capitalist rule with workers’ rule. Nor, unlike Ian Duncan Smith and his hypocritical Tory party who bear a great deal of the responsibility for the current situation, are we on a simple mission to conserve any of capitalism’s social arrangements. The collapse of family structures is symptomatic of capitalism’s crisis and the future post-capitalist society will not be a simple restoration of that which currently exists. New solutions to the problems of care, child rearing, education and relationships will have to emerge. As capitalism slides deeper into uncharted waters of crisis, pressure relentlessly tears apart all social relationships and demands the replacement of obsolete formations. A look at the condition of the family unit in the UK, supposedly one of the most prosperous, advanced nations in the world, still provides more than reasonable grounds to support such a perspective. In 1997 New Labour came to power riding on a wave of promises to quell the rising tide of social exclusion, its slogan was “Education, Education, Education”, and for the true believers, a new dawn was about to heal the wounds of the confrontational Tory era before them. New Labour, conservative in every respect, had no perspective other than bolstering the nuclear family, a social arrangement that serves capitalism well. The family under capitalism is the transmission belt of privilege at one pole, deprivation at another, passing social position from one generation to the next, rendering all the equal opportunity chatter sterile (3). New Labour’s “Supporting Families” programme (1999) opens with “Families are at the heart of our society and the basis of our future as a country. That is why our government is so committed to strengthening family life”. But today, the dream is over, the reality of capitalism’s utter inability to create anything like a decent society defies all attempts by the spin doctors to gloss over the facts with official optimism. The divisions have only intensified. It is the most vulnerable sectors who are bearing the brunt of this social crisis, particularly the young, but also the old, and the legion of carers who face grinding commitments within a highly pressurised economic environment. It is here that the hopelessness of capitalism, its lack of a future vision, its blatant inhumanity becomes most obvious. New Labour may preach family and nation, but the reality is class division, economic distress for some, plenty for others.

The question of poverty is intimately entwined with the family question. The target to halve child poverty - with a view to eradicating it completely by 2020 - was first announced by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1999, when the number of children living in poverty stood at 3.4 million. Since then the number has fallen by 600,000 to 2.8 million - still well short of the goal of 1.7 million. Certain groups of children had a much higher risk of growing up in poverty, such as those who were disabled or had a disabled parent. It said that it was “particularly concerned” that one in five families with a disabled child were so hard up they had to cut back on food. Poverty rates among Pakistani and Bangladeshi children were twice those among white children, while black children also experienced higher rates of poverty than whites. The rates were also particularly high in London (4).

Women Workers

The condition of the female workforce also directly conditions the levels of deprivation many families face. The gender pay gap more than trebles when women reach their 30s, often because of a “motherhood penalty”, research shows. A report by the TUC for the TUC Women’s Conference, earlier this year, found women of all ages earned less than men, but the difference was greatest after they passed 30, rising to more than 20% between the ages of 50 and 59. Many women are part-time workers, a category suffering some of the worst levels of pay.

When women earn poverty-level wages, the whole family suffers. If the Government is serious about ending child poverty, it must raise family income by creating better paid, quality part-time work for Britain’s 7.5 million part-time workers.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said at the TUC Women’s Conference

Women were also twice as likely as men to be poor, the study showed. Now that the wages of a single earner are often insufficient to maintain a family unit, more and more women can no longer be allowed to work in the domestic setting alone. However, the conditions that capitalism offers working mothers are in no way a form of liberation. Two-thirds of working mothers with young children would like to give up work to care for their family, according to a new report. At the moment 1 in 4 children are the offspring of separated parents and the great majority of these households are headed by women, increasingly never-married women. As Marxists we are not pointing the finger at “illegitimacy” or any such obsolete stigma, we are not demanding the return of women to the home, we recognise the oppressive nature of the nuclear family, backed up by a host of social and cultural weapons designed to produce enormous benefits to the capitalists at no cost. The domestic labour, often performed by wives and mothers is unpaid. If commodity producers, (mostly men) had to purchase domestic services, their employers would have to pay far higher wages to cover these costs. And, of course, child rearing from a capitalist point of view produces new generation of exploitable commodity producers, again, at no cost. But we are saying capitalism’s exploitation of the female work force, where women are often paid less, denied opportunities and entitlements, has a direct, negative impact on all children, but most of all those great numbers growing up in the care of single mothers. The oppression of women is very real, but liberation for working class women will not be found this side of proletarian revolution.

Recent research by, found 62% of mothers who work both full and part-time and have children under seven would like to leave their jobs. The survey found 84% of parents were “physically worn out”, while 68% felt “exhausted” and “emotionally drained”. Eight out of 10 mothers surveyed said they had less than an hour a day to themselves while 57% of parents felt there was “not enough time in the day for normal family life”.

Capitalist Social Relations are the Problem

Capitalism’s economic crisis means that the condition of the working class will only worsen. It is this that gives the lie to all the comfortable perspectives that the politicians spout on Radio Four programmes about helping the deprived minority out of poverty. Rather, the demands of the capitalist mechanism will cast many more into their ranks, as benefits, wages, pensions diminish and prices soar. The youth are the purest expression of the recent attempts to manage a capitalism in crisis, the most removed from any memory of the post-war growth period and the ones whose entire life is and will be shaped by the open economic crisis that will militate against all the illusions that the previous generations of the working class influenced by the periods of relative economic prosperity and a sophisticated management of the crisis may still entertain and attempt to pass down to the workers of tomorrow. Today, more than ever, the obsolescence of capitalist social relations becomes ever more critical. The attempts to bolster up the institutions of the past, from the family to parliament, from the “free market” to the welfare state, will only translate into the multiplication of misery. There is no possibility of regenerating society outside of the establishment of communist foundations, capitalism can only offer more division, more deprivation, the social chaos unfolding as the economic realities of capitalism translate into working class pain.



(2) At the same time he said:

There is a group at the lower socio-economic end of society that has more than has been for a long time become quite trapped in that level of income and that level of poverty and those levels of destructive lifestyles such as, you know, heavy alcohol abuse, drug addictions, lack of work, in some places I visit there are generational unemployment where, you know, two generations in a family that I visit have never held a job, nobody seems to give a damn whether they hold a job, no-one seems to care too much about them...

Ian Duncan Smith Friday 1st August Any Questions Radio 4

(3) Conservatives have branded the educational inequality gap in English schools “a national disgrace” after figures showed that almost half of children from deprived backgrounds fail to get a single good GCSE.

Some 45% of children eligible for free school meals failed to get a GCSE at grade C or better in 2006/07, compared to 24% of pupils generally, according to official statistics released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in response to Tory questions.

Only one in 16 of the 80,000 children receiving free school meals stayed on in education after the age of 16 in 2006/07 - a total of just over 5,000 young people.

And just 176 young people from deprived backgrounds - about 0.2% of the total in that age group - gained the three As at A-level which are needed to get into the top universities.

Children on free school meals were 193 times more likely to leave school without a GCSE at a good grade than to stay on and gain three As at A-level.

Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove said:

For all Gordon Brown’s talk of creating a fair society with opportunity for all, the reality is very different.
A child from a deprived background is 193 times more likely to leave school without a single good GCSE than they are to get three As at A-level.
This level of inequality is a national disgrace and a block on opportunity. Reforming our schools and strengthening our families is the key to building a better, happier and fairer society.

Mr Gove was speaking ahead of a speech he is due to give on Monday about strengthening the family.

(4) The figures in this paragraph were taken from the March 2008 article: . No doubt the current sharpening of economic conditions has only exacerbated them.

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