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Family Structure Policy



An introduction to social policy

Social policy refers to the study of social welfare and how it relates to politics and the society.

The United Kingdom is a unitary state where the central government controls all the activities of government. Demographic changes in the society have strong implications on government policy as far as sound decision-making is concerned. These changes come in form of divorce rates, decline in marriage as the fundamental institution of society, rise in cohabitation and many others. Irwin, S. (1999)

In each administrative region we have a secretary of state and administrative departments situated in the central government with respective assemblies and executive.

Laws in these administrative regions differ from one region to another. For example laws which apply in England and Wales tend to differ from those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Social services in the UK are under the health board but changes do occur frequently.

The main government departments dealing with social policy in the UK are as follows.

Central government

The central government is in charge of National organisations and Local government

Parliament is responsible for Primary legislation, Local authorities’ and London boroughs

Cabinet Office undertakes reforms in the Public service

The Treasury in charge of economy policy of the government and financing

Department of Health provides healthcare, social services and community care.

Department for Work and Pensions Is responsible for national insurance, social assistance and creation of employment.

Department for Communities and Local Government is in charge of Local government; Urban policy; Housing and environmental health

Ministry of Justice – Law and order

Department for Children, Schools and Families -manage Schools; Education welfare; Learning disability (5-18); children’s services

The administration of welfare in the UK

The administration system in the UK has undergone major reforms with the first phase covering the 1960s and 1970s where by planning and control of public expenditure was shifted to treasury.

The second phase between 1980s and 1990s saw the restructuring of the civil service and the administration of welfare.

The British social policy was dominated by poor laws way back from 1598 to 1948 for instance the Elizabethan poor law of 1601 provided for a compulsory poor rate, creation of overseers of relief and “setting the poor on work”.


According to research there has been notable decrease in the percentage of people living in households comprising the traditional family unit. Around 2001 Chinese and Asian communities had families with greater proportion of married couples; while on the other hand other ethnic groups like the black, white Caribbean had the greater proportion of cohabiting couples.

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In the year 2004 according to statistics eight out of 10 people in the UK lived in a family household but however the same statistics indicate the there is a decline in this form of structure because for past 40 years there has been an increase in the number of people living alone. This trend has been accelerated by high divorce and cohabitation rates. Increase in the number of breakouts and the number of births occurring outside marriage has had a hand in this trend.

Since 1972 the proportion of children living in larger families has declined

Different ethnic groups differ in terms of size of household for instance Asian households tend to be bigger that other ethnic groups and can comprise of even three generations.

About 12% of births in the UK in the year 1980 were outside marriage.

By the year 2000 the figures had increased to about 41% making UK the leading country with such births in the EU. Most of these births are as a result of cohabitation.

About household chores, women spend about four hours in activities such as washing, cooking, and ironing. This is about one and a half hours more than that of men.


Changes if family structure comes about in terms of composition and size of households. For instance there is change from 2 parent families to single parenthood. Maternal employment is also evident in the UK whereby mothers go out to look for paid employment. Other changes are in form of:

Changes in employment and household resourcing

In the UK for the past decades there have been trends in polarisation especially for women at individual level and at the level of household. There has been a notable alteration of gender in relation to education, employment and household resourcing.

Growth in participation of post-compulsory education has also been witnessed for the past few decades party associated with employment opportunity structure family relations of partial dependence and obligations.

Some of the factors contributing towards income inequalities include:

  • The rising gap between the highly paid and the lowly paid with increasing premiums for skills and qualifications.
  • The numbers of workless households increase faster than the overall official unemployment rates.

Marriage cohabitation and divorce

A steady decline in marriage has been noted since early 1970s in the UK.Postponement of marriage has been observed in some household and it is mainly contributed to by cohabitation. Continued growth has had an impact on people’s perception concerning morality and living arrangements. Within cohabiting unions child bearing has become very common. The UK has the highest divorce rates in the entire European union .Marital ties are increasingly being based on emotions and romantic love rather than material necessity.

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Living apart together -this is a term used to refer to people having a partner in what is understood to be a sexual relationship. It is similar to co-residential cohabitation or living together because the two parties regard themselves as a couple (Murphy and Wang 1999).

Lone parenthood

Sociologists have continued to regard lone parenthood as an indicator of family change. By 1991 around 20% of all families with dependent children were headed by a lone parent. This growth was due to increase in divorce rates, single parents and never married parent. ( McKay and Marsh 1994).


In the UK there was marked rise in fertility during the post war period then a decline in fertility. Two major components of the rise in fertility are the change in family size and the period for parenthood. Most women born in Britain in the late 1940s have remained childess.This trend has been cited by sociologists as important. (ONS 1997; and Irwin 1999).


Key in the implications of these changes in the family is the explosion of the non-marital child bearing.

Changing of family structures has led to legislations by the government for instance the family law in Scotland.

Poverty and disadvantage have serious implications on the social policy that seeks to create a level playing field in the nation and especially for the children Boheim, R. and Ermisch, J. (1998). Child poverty is firmly on the agenda of many European countries. It entails strategies which aim at increasing the income for low income earners with children. This is by promoting policies which will increase employment for poor families. Hall, R., Ogden, P.E. and Hill, C. (1999) A successful strategy should seek a balanced approach whereby improved benefits and improved incentives.

For many years the rights of a child have been on top of the agenda for EU recently measures have been put in place to establish a comprehensive strategy to promote and effectively implement the rights in both internal and external policies.

Women with high qualifications are likely to enter into partnership at later years than those at low levels of education or the non- educated. Also those women who are less educated are likely to have high divorce rates than those with high education.

Working mothers have an impact on the Childs well- being. It brings additional income and lifts many families out of poverty. Those who grow up poor early are likely to leave home early and are likely to be less educated.

Despite widespread economic growth and progress in poverty reduction, in the UK the child remains the most vulnerable population. This because they are at high risk of living in poverty with the changing structure and composition of the family. Children are missing out on the on political and economic agenda. Participatory approaches should therefore be initiated involvement of all stakeholders including particularly the children and young people. The perspectives of children from single parenthood should be included in policy formulation and implementation so as to combat poverty.


In the UK today households are made in many different ways and people have a variety of patterns of working.

The current patterns and trends in familial lifestyles are key determinants of the level of developments in employment and patterns of inequality. Changes in composition of households are key demographic indicators of changing living standards and lifestyles.

These changes remain top on the agenda for the government so as to institute measures aimed at reducing poverty levels for instance the government has put children at its centre of its social policy agenda. This is evident by increasing the levels of in-work support for low -income parents and initiating programmes to support parents from disadvantaged areas.


www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/uk.htmDownloaded 28/04/2008

www.agf.org.uk/pubs/pdfs/1383Ageingweb.pdf Downloaded 28/04/2008

www.leeds.ac.uk/CAVA/papers/wsp7b.pdf Downloaded 29/04/2008

www.deafnessatbirth.org.uk/content2/support/diversity/03/index.html Downloaded29/04/2008

Cooper, W. (1999) LFS Household Data: Spring 1998 Analyses Labour Market Trends (January)


Hutton, S. (1994) Men’s and women’s incomes: evidence from survey data Journal of Social

Policy 23 (1): 21-40.

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