18 April 2011

Nudge, nudge, wink wink...

Headlines from 18th April 2011

The article  (istyosty link), by James Chapman, which accompanies these headlines appears authoritative, concerned and, superficially at least, convincing. 

It tells of work done on behalf of Ian Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions by the think tank The Centre for Social Justice, set up at the behest of Mr. Duncan by Mark Forman, the ex Senior Deputy Treasurer of the Conservative Party. The press release for this 'study' is here.

The press release describes The Centre for Social Justice as 'independent'. One might suggest that Mr. Forman is in no way an independent Chairman!
A closer look at the background and political persuasion of personnel who make up this think tank is fascinating. It's website is here.

The full report was published in April 2011 and is entitled :
History and Family: Setting the Records Straight.
                 A Rebuttal To the British Academy Pamphlet Happy Families?

It is attributed to Professor Rebecca Probert of the University of Warwick about whom we learn:

Professor Rebecca Probert
Rebecca Probert is a Professor at the University ofWarwick, teaching family law
and child law. She has published widely on both modern family law and the
historical development of the law, her most recent books include The Rights and
Wrongs of Royal Marriage: how the law has led to heartbreak, farce and confusion
and why it must be changed (Takeaway, 2011), Cretney and Probert’s Family Law
(Sweet & Maxwell, 7th ed, 2009) and Marriage Law and Practice in the Long
Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

and Dr. Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice, whose brief resume reads:

Dr Samantha Callan
Samantha Callan is recognised as a research and policy expert in the field of family
relationships and work-life integration. She is an honorary research fellow at
Edinburgh University and formerly a research consultant to major UK and
international non-governmental organisations aiming to strengthen family life. In
this capacity she chaired the Family Breakdown Working Group of the Social
Justice Policy Commission and the Family Law Review and Early Years
Commission for the Centre for Social Justice. Prior to joining the CSJ full-time she
was the Family and Society Policy adviser in the Conservative Policy Unit.

One obvious purpose of this report is to show categorically that children brought up by married couples are far more likely to succeed at school and in their lives in general and that children whose parents divorce or who never tie the knot fall at every obstacle. 

However, reading the report, one is struck by the determined effort on the part of its authors to refute and disprove the tenets of the rival report, Happy Families?, published in November 2010 by Professor Pat Thane, mentioned in its title.

In other words, this report from The Centre for Social Justice resembles not so much an erudite, in-depth study of the causes and effects of childhood poverty and disadvantage as the continuation of an argument between two opposing points of view. This report is not convincing in its rigour or conclusions. Much of their evidence is drawn from polls or studies which could be described as 'obscure'.

Ian Duncan Smith's avowed intent is to promote marriage by means of incentives and tax breaks. 

The Daily Mail's journalist, James Chapman,  has based his article almost wholly on the press release and a set of prejudices the newspaper he writes for is well-known to favour. 

His piece uses the data included in the report from The Centre for Social Justice with the addition of the usual emotive and sensationalised expressions one expects when reading such an article in this particular right - leaning tabloid.

Unable to resist nefarious criticism of the record of the Labour Party in this area of Government James Chapman adds a crafty barb:

In its 13 years in power, Labour was accused of undermining the institution of marriage and the UK stands almost alone among European countries in failing to recognise traditional family structures in the tax system.
France, Germany, Denmark and Norway all recognise the role of stay-at-home spouses.

It's when the final paragraph is reached that one is able to discern perhaps the ulterior motive behind the CIJ's report and the apparent endorsement of it by this newspaper:

Today’s report will increase pressure on David Cameron to make good on his commitment to restore the transferable tax allowance for married couples to send a clear signal of support for an important institution.The Prime Minister has pledged to introduce a marriage tax incentive before the end of this Parliament in 2015.

A 'nudge', then, to David Cameron?