On 8 December 2023, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion:

The Archbishop of Canterbury to move that this House takes note of ‘Love matters’, the report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households.

1. Families and households in the UK

1.1 Statistics on family and household composition

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides a range of statistics on the make-up of families and households in the UK. Most recently, the May 2023 publication ‘Families and households in the UK: 2022’ highlighted that there were 19.4 million families and 28.2 million households in the UK in 2022.

The ONS defines a family as a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent with at least one child, living at the same address; children may be dependent or non-dependent. The current ONS definition of a household is one person living alone, or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room or dining area. A household can consist of a single family, more than one family or no families in the case of a group of unrelated people.[1]

The number of families in the UK has increased by just over one million  (5.7%) in the decade since 2012.[2] Of these families:

  • 3 million (43%) had no children living within them
  • 2 million (42%) had one or more dependent children
  • 9 million (15%) had only non-dependent children

The majority of families, 66%, were made up of families in which a couple were married or civil‑partnered. While this has remained the most common type of family, the family type has generally been declining as a proportion of all families.[3]

Cohabiting-couple families accounted for 19% in 2022, almost one in five families. Opposite-sex cohabiting couples were the fastest growing family type in the 10 years since 2012, with an increase from 2.9 million to 3.6 million families; this represented a rise from 16% of all families to 18%. Same-sex cohabiting-couple families accounted for 0.6% of families, an increase from 0.4% in 2012.

In 2022 there were 2.9 million lone parent families, making up 15% of families. Of these 84% were headed by a lone mother and 16% a lone father. These figures are not significantly different from 2012, when three million families, 17% of all families, were lone-parent families. Of these, 13% were headed by a lone father and 87% a lone mother.

Of the estimated 28.2 million households in the UK in 2022, the majority consisted of one family. The number of people living alone was 8.3 million, 30% of the total number of households. Over half of those living alone were women.[4]

1.2 Statistics on the financial position of families

Government figures taken from the annual family resources survey also provide details about the financial position of UK families.[5] These show that in 2021/22 the proportion of families in the UK with no savings was 18%. A further 29% of families had less than £1,500 in savings.

The proportion of UK families receiving state support, which includes the state pension, universal credit, child benefit or tax credits, was estimated at 53%, unchanged from the previous year. Of these:

  • 3 million UK families, 26%, received state support of less than £10,000 per year
  • 4 million families, 21%, received between £10,000 and less than £20,000 annually in state support
  • 1 million families, 6%, received £20,000 or more per year in state support

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has estimated that 13.4 million people in the UK were living in poverty in 2020/21, around one in five of the population.[6] Of these, 7.9 million were working-age adults, 3.9 million were children and 1.7 million were pensioners. JRF figures showed that families with three or more children had much higher poverty rates than smaller families. The JRF stated that low-income families were struggling to afford essentials and limiting food, washing and showering as a means to reduce spending.

The JRF has also undertaken work to examine factors that protect people from very deep poverty, and those which make it more likely.[7] It defined households below 40% of median income as living in deep poverty. Amongst factors protecting people from deep poverty it pointed to job security; drawing a state pension; reducing housing costs; getting the benefits that individuals were entitled to; having savings to fall back on and having a strong social network. In contrast, factors that could make deep poverty more likely included job loss, relationship breakdown and bereavement, having additional children and poor mental health.

2. Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households

2.1 Background

The Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households was established in March 2021 by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.[8] The genesis of the commission was the 2018 book by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entitled ‘Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope’.[9] In it, the archbishop pointed to the centrality of the family in every community, while also recognising the diverse nature of families in the 21st century. As explained by the commission:

Cautioning against idolising families, Archbishop Justin acknowledged that family life, while being the greatest source of contentment and hope, can also be the main location of despair and the cause of unhappiness and trauma. He therefore questioned how families should be understood in modern society, and the values that will support and sustain them. Drawing attention to the ‘gross inequalities’ in education, health and income, and the importance of reimagining the common good, Archbishop Justin asked readers of his book to consider the kind of society they want to build for the future.[10]

The archbishops’ commission was established to consider how to renew support for families and households in England. As part of its work, in October 2021 the commission issued a call for evidence seeking views from organisations and individuals on a range of questions. In addition, the commission carried out visits to communities throughout England and activities such as round table discussions, surveys and meetings with interfaith leaders.[11] It also considered other challenges which had emerged since the publication of the archbishop’s 2018 book, including the cost of living crisis; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; climate change; and continuing humanitarian disasters.[12]

2.2 Commission recommendations: April 2023

The commission argued that strong and stable families and households are the foundation of society and of central importance to the individual wellbeing of children, young people and adults. In addition, it called for singleness to be recognised and honoured, calling it a “major part of society”.[13] Noting that family life can be “difficult and messy”, the commission concluded that all relationships “can benefit from support at different life stages”.[14]

The commission identified five key messages, stating that society must:

  • value families in all their diversity, meeting their basic needs by putting their wellbeing at the heart of government policymaking and our community life, including religious communities
  • support relationships throughout life, ensuring that everyone is able to develop and maintain loving and caring relationships, manage conflict well and promote the flourishing of individuals and families
  • honour singleness and single person households, recognising that loving relationships matter to everyone
  • empower children and young people, developing their relational skills and knowledge, recognising their value and agency, protecting them from harm, and giving them the best start in life
  • build a kinder, fairer, more forgiving society, removing discrimination, division and deep inequality for the sake of every family and household

In addition, the commission cited the following areas as key priorities for action. It called on society to:

  • maximise the protective effect of family
  • ensure that all loving relationships matter and are valued in everything we do
  • give every child the best possible start in life
  • tackle societal issues which limit people’s ability to flourish[15]

The report included 36 recommendations for the Church of England, and 29 for the government. Suggestions for the church included offering high-quality preparation for marriage and other forms of committed adult relationships to every couple planning a religious or civil ceremony; working with relationship support agencies to support families at all life stages continually; supporting families whose relationships are in difficulty to manage conflict well; and to work in Parliament to press for greater awareness of, and resourcing for, the support of children at risk of harm in separating families.

Amongst its recommendations, the commission called on the government to:

  • recognise and value the diversity of families and households, and to reflect this in policy and decision-making
  • invest in relationship capability and relationship support for all couples to build and maintain strong, stable families and, when necessary, enable them to separate well; this should be done in partnership with specialist charities, community groups, statutory agencies and faith communities
  • ensure that relationship support is routinely offered at life transitions, especially at the transition to parenthood and when assuming caring responsibilities
  • develop a cross-departmental relationships strategy to provide a coordinated approach to parental separation and keep the child’s best interest and wellbeing at the centre
  • ensure that the 20-week waiting period within the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is used effectively to support families
  • encourage businesses to partner with ‘The Parents Promise’ (a campaign by the Positive Parenting Alliance) in order to support better outcomes for children when parents part and reduce the number of days lost when parents take time off work due to stress
  • develop a clear cross-government strategy to end child poverty
  • ensure that all prospective parents, including adoptive parents and guardians, have access to and receive comprehensive information about the support available from professionals working with new parents
  • implement at pace all of the recommendations of the independent review of children’s social care
  • ensure that relationships and sex education is delivered well, consistently, and its effectiveness monitored
  • reduce waiting times in the family justice system and the youth justice system
  • include a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation in the Modern Slavery Act 2015
  • ensure that building strong and stable relationships in every family and household is central to the priorities of every government department, with a designated cabinet-level minister holding responsibility for the implementation, oversight and publication of a family review
  • prioritise tackling poverty and reforming the social security system so that it better reflects the complex reality of family life

3. Government policy

The government has not formally responded to the report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households. In June 2023, Education Minister Baroness Barran confirmed that the government would respond to the commission as part of its response to the family review by the children’s commissioner published in December 2022.[16]

In her response, the minister also mentioned government activity in several areas, including funding of family hubs, childcare reforms and the recent launch of the government’s strategy for children’s social care, launched in February 2023, ‘Stable homes, built on love’.

3.1 Office for the Children’s Commissioner: Family review

The children’s commissioner’s family review had been recommended by an earlier review. In 2021, the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities had recommended “a review to investigate and take action to address the underlying issues facing families”. The commission had been established by the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, to investigate race and ethnic disparities in the UK.[17]

In response to the commission’s recommendations, in 2022 the government asked the children’s commissioner “to consider whether the needs of children are understood in the provision of services to families, and how we could improve children’s outcomes by improving the way public services understand the needs of families”.[18]

The children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, published part 1 of her independent family review in September 2022, with part 2 following in December 2022. As outlined by the commissioner:

Given the children’s commissioner’s specific duties towards non-devolved issues affecting all children, and their rights, across the United Kingdom, this review addresses children’s experiences and outcomes in families only where there is at least one child aged 18 or under. The commissioner also has a specific duty towards looked after children and care leavers in England. The review considers their needs, voices and experiences to age 25 […]

Part 1 of the family review focusses on what families look like in modern Britain, defines for the first time what exactly is protective about them, and what services are currently provided to those families who need them. Alongside this, it looks at the unique experiences of children for whom the state is their parent. There are recommendations for policy makers at the close of part 1 of the family review, and a framework for answering them will underpin part 2.[19]

Part 2 of the family review reiterated recommendations from the earlier part 1, focussing on three core objectives: making strong families an explicit and positive aim of public policy; enabling a new focus on the power of parenting; and ensuring all families can access holistic support within their local community. Specific recommendations included the development of a family framework to be used by policymakers to ensure policy design is family friendly, and the development of a cross-government family action plan.[20]

3.2 Family hubs

Family hubs were recommended by a review chaired by Andrea Leadsom (Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire) in March 2021 into improving the health and development outcome of babies in England.[21]

Family hubs are intended to bring together multiple organisations in a ‘one stop shop’ to make it easier for families to access help and support. They are aimed at supporting families with babies, children and young people from birth until they reach the age of 19 (or up to 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities). In the budget and spending review on 27 October 2021, the government announced that around £300mn would be invested into the ‘Family hubs and start for life programme’ that would provide support for 75 upper tier local authorities in England.

3.3 Childcare reforms

In the March 2023 budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced reforms to the package of government support for childcare costs. He announced that the current entitlement of up to 30 free hours for eligible parents would be extended to children from nine months old. This is to be rolled out in phases from April 2024.[22]

At present, childcare in England is free for two-year-olds if their parents receive certain welfare benefits. All three to four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare, and many three to four-year-olds can receive 30 hours of free childcare, if their parents are in work and each earns less than £100,000 a year.[23]

3.4 ‘Stable homes, built on love’ strategy and consultation response

In February 2023, the government published an implementation strategy and consultation on reforming children’s social care in England entitled ‘Stable homes, built on love’. This set out and sought views on proposals to reform children’s social care. The consultation closed on 11 May 2023 and a government response was published in September 2023.[24]

The strategy is based on six pillars:

  • family help providing the right support at the right time so that children thrive within their families
  • a decisive multi-agency child protection system
  • unlocking the potential of family networks
  • putting love, relationships and a stable home at the heart of being a child in care
  • a valued, supported and highly skilled social worker for every child who needs one
  • a system that continuously learns, improves and makes better use of evidence and data

The strategy stated that a “major reset” was required to “rebalance children’s social care away from costly crisis intervention to more meaningful and effective help for families”. The reforms have been designed to be implemented in stages. The first phase involves an investment of £200mn over two years “addressing urgent issues facing children and families now, laying the foundations for whole system reform and setting national direction for change”. Then after two years the government intends to “refresh this strategy, scaling up the new approaches we have tested and developed, and bringing forward new legislation (subject to parliamentary time)”.

3.5 Supporting families programme

Supporting families is the successor programme to the government’s previous ‘Troubled families programme’, launched in 2012. The Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto committed to improving the ‘Troubled families programme’ and championing family hubs to provide vulnerable families with support.

The government announced in March 2021 that the programme would continue as the ‘Supporting families programme’. It said that £165mn would be provided in 2021/22 on the same basis as in previous years. Additional funding of £200mn was announced at the autumn budget and spending review 2021.[25]

The government has said that the focus of the programme is on building the resilience of vulnerable families and providing joined up, efficient local services which are able to identify families in need and provide the right support at the right time.[26] It stated:

Supporting families will continue to focus on providing targeted interventions for families with complex interconnected problems. These problems include unemployment and financial instability, poor school attendance, mental and physical health problems, involvement in crime and antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse and poor family relationships, children who are at risk of abuse and exploitation, substance misuse and insecure housing. The four key principles of supporting families remain early intervention, whole family working, multi-agency working and measuring outcomes and data.

4. Read more

Cover image by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash.


  1. Office for National Statistics, ‘Families and households statistics explained’, 18 May 2023. Return to text
  2. Office for National Statistics, ‘Families and households in the UK: 2022’, 18 May 2022. Return to text
  3. Office for National Statistics, ‘Families and households in the UK: 2022’, 18 May 2022. Return to text
  4. As above. Return to text
  5. Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Family resources survey: Financial year 2021 to 2022’, updated 21 July 2023. Return to text
  6. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘UK poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK’, 26 January 2023. Return to text
  7. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘What protects people from deep poverty and what makes it more likely?’, 25 September 2023. Return to text
  8. Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, ‘Love matters’, April 2023. Return to text
  9. Church of England, ‘About the Families and Households Commission’, accessed 28 November 2023. Return to text
  10. Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, ‘Love matters’, April 2023, p 13. Return to text
  11. Church of England, ‘“Love matters”: Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households publishes its final report’, 26 April 2023. Return to text
  12. Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, ‘Love matters’, April 2023, pp 13–15. Return to text
  13. As above, p 30. Return to text
  14. As above, p 57. Return to text
  15. As above, pp 7–9. Return to text
  16. Oral question on ‘Archbishops’ Commission on families and households: Love matters report’, HL Hansard, 13 June 2023, col 1827; and Children’s Commissioner, ‘Family review: A positive approach to parenting’, December 2022. Return to text
  17. Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, ‘The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’, 31 March 2021. Return to text
  18. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘Inclusive Britain: Government response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’, 17 March 2022. Return to text
  19. Children’s Commissioner, ‘Family review: Family and its protective effect’, September 2022, pp 7–8. Return to text
  20. Children’s Commissioner, ‘Family review: A positive approach to parenting’, December 2022, p 82. Return to text
  21. Department of Health and Social Care, ‘The best start for life: A vision for the 1,001 critical days’, 25 March 2021. Return to text
  22. Lords Library, ‘Early years education: Trends, issues and the impact of Covid-19’, 23 November 2023. Return to text
  23. As above. Return to text
  24. Department for Education, ‘Children’s social care: Stable homes, built on love’, updated 21 September 2023. Return to text
  25. House of Commons Library, ‘Supporting families programme’, 31 March 2023. Return to text
  26. Department for Education, ‘Supporting families programme guidance 2022 to 2025’, 2 April 2022. Return to text