October 30, 2006

Family Breakdown: the Historical Perspective

The History and Policy website is a valuable effort to bring a longer perspective to the problems of our day. I would quibble that often the articles are too short and seem to rush to policy implications but then again their audience, civil servants and politicians, need short and concise thought not long and over elaborate musings. The offerings this week concentrate very much upon the field of child support. Both Thomas Nutt and Tanya Evans have produced interesting papers which tend towards similar conclusions- both see child care in a long perspective Nutt focusing on the simularities between the new arrangements in the UK and the poor law drafted in the sixteenth century and Evans upon the failure to implement successive proposals from the 1970s on.

The problem though is that both these articles are institutional and they illustrate the flaws of institutional history over the long duree. The point about the situation now and the difficulties of forcing payment from fathers is that the problem is not merely the practical one of finding payment. Whereas Evans in particular is right that in the past that problem was grave because of the stigma attached to women who gave birth to illegitimate children, she and Nutt forget that in the present climate the strongest rhetorical argument about the position of fathers rests upon the equality of the sexes- its about access and the right of fathers to have a relationship with their children rather than about the evils of mothers. Consequently the debate has shifted rhetorically and consequently some of the problems that Evans and Nutt observe have become even more complicated: we now have demands from both parents for access and for funds.

Despite this both articles are well worth reading for an understanding of the context to this issue and a brief review barely gives a flavour to either article.


edmund said...

I note only about the article it combines sweeping comments about measures and ways "not working" wiht a noticeable lack of facts and figures when it comes to the illegitimacy rates, effects thereof -ect

Whilst I was amazed to learn that illegitimacy is commonly believied to have been invented in the 1960's (doesn't anyone wonder what "william the bastard" is a reference to) it didn't seem to deal wit the degree to which it has risen to a very high levle by historic standards in the last half a centruy in large measure due to those very same policies and that previous fluctatuations have owed a great deal to government policy and societal values

Gracchi said...

yes that's another aspect of the problem of pure institutional history without a wider view.