Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph had a headline ‘Death of the traditional family.’ I have been writing about the fact for three years. They were quoting the national statistics, which have recently been published. I won’t bore you with them all, just say that the extended family died in the 70s, and they’re only waking up to it now. I blame the governments since then, firstly, for allowing youngsters, wet behind the ears, disillusioned, or in a fit of pique as a result of a falling out in the family, to get pregnant, and then be given and supported in a small flat. Other causes are the drop in religious adherence, affluence which is a route to self-indulgence, and places the responsibilities of marriage, parenthood and a more restrictive life, as the brake on freedom of enjoyment, whether it is in fact, real or imagined.
The Nanny Society is partly to blame. The level of help offered by the various government, local government and charitable outlets, is incredible today, compared with the post-war era. Since I have been injured, and are not as independent as I was, I have found it amazing how many different functions are on offer to the aged the handicapped, and presumably the unemployed and single parents, than there were all those years ago, from allowances right up to cheap taxi fares. When I was demobbed from the Navy, I was skint, unemployed, and had a daughter seriously ill. Not only the family, but neighbours and friends clubbed together and helped us at a time when we really needed it, and the family stood by us while I was being educated, until I was earning, and then later I was able to repay this in-kind. You notice that I included neighbours and friends in the list. We have very kind neighbours where we now live, who would help us at the drop of a hat, but we have outlived our friends, and our family is scattered to the four winds. We are naturally independent, but when illness takes over this isn’t sufficient.
The world is much more sophisticated, and in consequence the young, if they are able, have higher expectations, to achieve this they leave home and can travel halfway round the world to find it. When I was young a lot of the people in our street would have known me by my Christian name, my antecedents, and our family history, because people tended to remain in the vicinity where they were born because life then was rather like a rubber stamp, what was good enough for dad was good enough for the son, and as this applied right across the board, extended families were common.
There’s been a lot of talk by the government, prior to the crunch, about building houses, and criticism of the multi-storey flat. The flats do not have to be multi-storey, but when young people are starting out, they need simple, affordable, rented accommodation, until they can build their future. In the case of the elderly, presupposing that they are still in that old mode of frugality and saving for the future, they want to reserve their assets for the benefit of the children and their grandchildren, and are conscious of the fact that they could be forced to pay for care if they have more than a certain amount of savings. They too, in many cases, would be happy living in a small flat, in a well-designed complex, either bought or rented, but mainly easy to maintain, thus avoiding the problems that detached or semi-detached properties derive. I believe it is time the government reassesses its housing programme, for the sake of green fields, those starting an adult life, and those who are elderly, infirm or handicapped. We can’t put the clock back, but I think we should step back, reassess where we are, and try and predict the future, and act accordingly. The environment, those fields and pleasant hills, are essential to our well-being, both for pleasure and psychologically. We must stop taking the easy solution of digging up Greenfield sites, and start utilising Brownfield areas and renovation, imaginatively, and with an eye to the future. We can no longer go back to the extended family as a rule, but rather as a pleasant accident, and must cater accordingly.