Family life in the UK is more diverse today than in any time in the past. The society described by functionalists and dominated by the nuclear family is a thing of the past. McRae says that Britain is a more complex society now than in the past with great diversity. While some sociologists such as Rapoport and Rapoport argue that this diversity should be valued, others such as those on the New Right blame increasing family diversity on the crisis in society and family life. Some sociologists argue that social policy has been responsible for this diversity while others disagree.
Government by implementing social policies affects the way people live their lives and we regard state involvement in family life as being normal. However some governments are clearly more involved than others as is the case in China where the 1980's the one child government policy produced a society of families with only one male child. In the UK it is clear to sociologists that government is not just a passive observer in family life but that social policy has made our society more diverse.
Diversity is evident in the decline in the number of people living in nuclear family with the introduction of cheaper and easier divorce laws since 1969. In 1961 52% of people lived in a nuclear family while in 2006 this had dropped to 37%. This resulting increase in single parent families and reconstituted families can be linked to this divorce legislation and is supported by welfare benefits available from government which support single parents and their dependent children and which make it easier for single parents to survive economically. These benefits include housing benefit, child benefit and family tax credit.
While feminists would support this involvement of government as a means of freeing women from the patriarchy and exploitation of men the New Right would regard the role of government in producing this family diversity negatively and some such as Murray blame it on the development of an “underclass” in society.
Housing Policies in the 1970s are regarded by feminists as being a factor in facilitating the rise in the number of single parent families as they allowed women to escape violent relationships without loosing their right to council housing
In the UK families have become more diverse as there has been an increase in the number of same sex families, enabled by government legislation. The acceptability of homosexuality by society and their ability to parent successfully has been enabled by the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and the 2002 adoption laws. More recently the growth in same sex families has been linked to the Civil Partnership Act and the introduction of gay marriage which has given same sex couples the stability to consider having a family. The legislation in Northern Ireland, the only place in the UK not to legalise same sex marriage can be linked to the less diverse nature of families in Northern Ireland as regards same sex couples. Not all sociologists support the changing diversity these social policies have resulted in. The New Right is unhappy