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ss CMF news - winter 2008,  Breakdown Britain

Breakdown Britain

One million children have alcohol addicted parents; 70% of young offenders come from lone parent families; 44,000 school leavers each year are illiterate; and British household debt is twice that in continental Europe. And things are getting worse! The number of children born outside marriage has gone from 8% in 1970 to 41% in 2003; lone parent families have increased by 40,000 per year since 1980, and children's alcohol consumption has doubled in the last 15 years.

Five 'pathways to poverty'

Britain is breaking down. Many of the mental and physical health problems that daily fill our GP surgeries, hospital wards and outpatient departments are symptoms of this. The main drivers are the five 'pathways to poverty': family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependence, indebtedness, and addiction. This social breakdown costs us £102 billion per annum and will keep rising unless we act.

These are some of the findings of an extensive evidence-based analysis by the Centre for Social Justice, [1] a think tank set up by former opposition leader Iain Duncan-Smith. CEO Philippa Stroud gave the keynote address at our recent CMF South-East day conference. 3,000 hours of hearings, submissions from 2,000 organisations and 50,000 people polled have led to the publication of two landmark documents, Breakdown Britain [2] and Breakthrough Britain [3] which outline the problem and possible solutions respectively.

The five 'pathways' are all interrelated. Children from a broken home are twice as likely to have behavioural problems, perform worse at school, become sexually active at a younger age, suffer depression, and turn to drugs, smoking and heavy drinking. A parent who has a serious drug problem or is addicted to alcohol can exhibit destructive behaviour patterns which can destroy the quality of life for the other parent and for children, leading in turn to family breakdown. Furthermore, either because of addictions or for other reasons, those on low incomes who get into debt often find it almost impossible to pay off their debts.

Possible solutions

Breakthrough Britain lists 191 policies aimed at reversing the breakdown, including strengthening two parent families, relationship and parenting education and support, enhanced roles for health visitors, family fostering, incentivising work, pioneer schools, and expanding abstinence-based rehabilitation for addicts. Each £1 invested now in early intervention will save £7 in the future.

Solutions must be multilayered. We need sound legislation to strengthen and protect the vulnerable, a welfare system that helps those in genuine need and encourages independence, active corporate philanthropy, and flourishing voluntary organisations. All levels of society including government, the corporate and charitable sectors, communities, and families have a role to play in reversing the decline.

A spiritual malaise

But at a deeper level the breakdown and its five 'drivers' are themselves symptoms of a more general spiritual malaise – a loss of Christian faith and values. The church has a huge role to play; not just in what it does directly to support families in the communities, but through the actions of individual Christians in positions of influence in health, education, local councils and government. Most importantly of all it is the love of Christ, the grace of God and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that are the most powerful forces in the universe in transforming lives. People's greatest need is to be reconciled with the creator through faith in Jesus Christ.

Equipping and supporting Christian doctors

The role of Christian doctors in all this is crucial, and CMF exists to equip and support doctors on the frontline. Following a massive year of central change in 2007 in which we reorganised our departmental structure and moved house, God has continued to bless CMF in 2008. He is doing this through our ongoing day to day ministry and public policy work, through staff transitions, through installation of our new database and financial systems and, thanks to the generosity or our members, through our finishing close to budget during a credit crunch.

We begin 2009, our 60th anniversary year, with a stronger staff team, more robust administrative systems, greater financial soundness, and a higher public profile. The challenges are huge, but in God's strength we are up for them. I hope you will be encouraged by what you read in these pages about what God is doing in and through Christian doctors, as we seek to be Christ's agents of transformation in 'Breakdown Britain'. Let's keep running this race together.

Peter Saunders is CMF General Secretary.

  2. Breakdown Britain . Social Justice Policy Group. December 2006
  3. Breakthrough Britain. Social Justice Policy Group. July 2007
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