On the 7th May next year, Britain will have reached a tragic and unprecedented milestone. The number of lone-parent families is rising at a rate of 20,000 a year, and will - according to a CSJ report published last year - total more than a staggering two million by the time we as a nation decide who will next govern us. David Cameron's impassioned early-term ambitions to put family at the centre in his vision of a conservative Britain have proven to be hollow as we draw towards the end of his first term. In a society which has been so radically purged of its supporting social structures over the course of the last four years, the harsh reality of a 'Fatherless Britain' is a problem that is not going away.
Much has been made of the impact that a single-parent family can have on a child's future, with claims of father absence being linked to higher rates of teenage crime, pregnancy and disadvantages across the board. Yet what can be said for an entire nation of young people without a government to guide them and support them in the choices they make? As with many of these issues, Word on the Curb has talked to and worked with artists who observe, engage with and probe these parallels between large social issues and a government that largely ignores young people. Samuel King, the latest addition to Word on the Curb, hits the nail on the head in his new poem, aptly named 'Fatherless Britain':
"The fatherless syndrome is swapping through generation to generation. We make plans to better the youth, and like absent fathers, they ain't funding it... So the same way we ask what's a child without a dad, we should also ask what's a youth without a government?"
It is a point that requires thorough investigation, for it portrays a government that is astronomically out of touch with the future of its population. Historically speaking, the government's scant regard for the younger generations is not a new phenomenon; when has our government ever respected the wishes of people either too young to vote or too young to be making sizeable tax contributions? If the announcement of a nationwide tripling of university fees in 2010 was the starkest possible indication of this on-going alienation of the nation's youth, the riots of the following year tragically reflected the deep-set fears and frustrations felt by countless disaffected young minds. Cameron's response to this 'broken society', besides advocating inflated jail sentences for menial crimes and tripling university fees, was to blame broken families for their children's errant ways: "Either there was no one at home, they [parents] didn't care much or they'd lost control" was the general diagnosis. The shifting of blame to the broken homes they have failed to help mend held a distinct sense of irony and injustice, one that has been compounded by lax taxation laws for rich individuals, banks and businesses. There is an inherent paradox in a government that claims to seek unity in the family unit, whilst actively dividing the larger society. "We're all in this together" is the slogan that is used so freely by the government, yet it is the same one that claimed those rioting 3 years ago "don't represent us and they don't represent the young people."
Samuel sums up the predicament of this double problem in the lines:
"Investing so much time in the rich who are coming to the end of their time, instead of investing time in us who have lives to live and haven't yet reached our primes. Killing the dreams you say we don't have before we have time to bring them to life: Cutting down libraries, youth clubs, institutions to help us grow, and aid to single mothers. How can we grow in a world where the dads don't help and the government don't love us?"
So much is said and promised within the houses of parliament, on the stages of political conferences and in front of the cameras of news reporters, yet so little of this seemingly endless rhetoric is supported by steadfast action. The 2014 Budget has sought to rectify issues through the punishing of single parents and support of two parent families, a solution that will only exacerbate the same issues again.
As a child growing up in a single-parent family, I am conscious of the limitations felt by young people who have to watch the one parent compensate for the absence of the other. However, the problem of a 'broken home' should not be the end of the discussion, the words of Gil Scott-Heron come to me: "
We were working on our lives and our homes, Dealing with what we had, not what we didn't have. My life has been guided by women, But because of them - I am the man."
What we should really be asking ourselves is, what is a youth without a government?