EARLIER this week, a tabloid ran a column on the education system’s alleged undermining of ‘parental authority’. And maybe there’s an element of truth in this culture war talking point: family structures are under severe strain. But I think the root cause has little to do with schools, teachers or identity politics. Surely, the collapse of ‘tradition’ is really about the demands of our decaying economic order and the ceaseless pressure for competitive adaptation?

A friend of my parents had the same occupation my husband does now at the same age. His family lived in Edinburgh, his wife chose to stay home and look after their two children, they had a car and summer holidays abroad. Even if they weren’t well-off, it’s a familiar tale of suburban middle-class aspiration, the sort of thing conservatives should love.

But in today’s economy, sustaining that notion of an ‘average nuclear family’ on a single average income is impossible. This kind of ‘family life’, so often idealised by traditionalists, is falling apart because increasingly brutal economic choices are being inflicted upon working people.

Let me be clear, I’m not falling into a nostalgic haze for the 1990s. The Family Dream was a mirage even then. The wage squeeze isn’t new. But pre-2008 crash, credit and large loans were hidden by booming house prices and a successful (albeit doomed) debt economy.

The truth is that workers’ wages must rise significantly if you want to improve family life. Low wages, insecure work and high rents also mean that a growing number of adults in their mid to late thirties are staying with parents at home. But most conservatives I’ve encountered or debated with are reluctant to even meet me halfway on this argument.

READ MORE CAT BOYD: Progressive indy supporters need to shun the culture wars

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with intergenerational living. It’s still the norm in many cultures. But when these decisions are enforced by economic necessity, not choice or custom, then we're denying people the freedom to break out on their own.

I know of multiple men and women, all parents of young kids, who have taken on second jobs in the last six months just to get by, usually in the service or retail industries. Weekends are for working extra hours to cover the extra costs, not for playtime or fun.

Next week, I return to full-time work following maternity leave. I’d love to stay off until my daughter turns one, but I simply can’t justify it. Financially, I have the support of a broader family network. That means our small family is in a privileged spot, despite eye-watering mortgage hikes and frightening energy bills. But this isn’t true for most. Take-home pay in Britain has been on a broadly downwards trajectory for more than a decade. Wages have stagnated, prices have risen, credit has filled the gaps. Now, inflation is soaring, interest rates are making debt wildly expensive and almost everyone is feeling the pinch.

I say almost, because this week, the International Monetary Fund published a report which should be dominating the headlines. Because in truth, while most people suffer, big business ain’t feeling the pinch. Not even a nip, in fact.

READ MORE: Lecturers are villains of exam marking boycott – or are they?

The IMF reports that one of the biggest drivers of inflation in Europe is soaring corporate profits. Fuel companies, food retailers and manufacturers, logistics and others have used global crises like the pandemic and war to push prices higher and balloon their profits. Remember, these are findings from the IMF, not the Trades Union Congress. It’s price gouging, pure and simple.

In Britain, we have remote technocrats making decisions about the economy’s future. Unelected bods like Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, falsely proclaiming that “excessive” wage increases are the causal factor in rising prices. This kind of dishonesty in public life should be a national outrage, but a cross-party consensus is keeping it off the agenda.

As my daughter’s first birthday approaches, I recall those early days of living in the newborn bubble, during a heatwave and a strike wave. Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey of the RMT Union dominated the headlines, articulating the growing discontent that millions felt, which no politician could successfully communicate. As industrial action spread, an unprecedented number of days were lost to strike action in 2022 and working people were lied to by the same politicians and technocrats who preach “family values” and economic responsibility.

You might expect as much from the Tories, but Keir Starmer says much the same, all the while parading his traditionalist concern for “Britishness” and family life. As for the Scottish Government, blaming it all on Westminster just isn’t good enough.

Working people are trying to keep pace with rising prices, that’s why there’s a spike in demands for higher wages. Wages haven’t kept pace with inflation for a long time. This isn’t driven by individual greed: everyone is drowning and the only viable life-raft available to redress the balance is the trade union movement. If right-wing commentators really cared about ordinary families, they could make their own contribution simply by ending the scaremongering against unions.

Making arguments in defence of “the family” on the left isn’t without controversy. For years, the radical left railed against family as a source of oppression. It’s easy to see why: familial abuse, violence in the family home, and unpaid domestic labour all make the notion of family life seem like a toxic swamp of servitude and fear.

But why shouldn’t left-wingers like myself be championing family life? Families are often far from perfect but dismissing the institution entirely feels intellectually and emotionally dishonest.

Families can also be places where relationships are tender and non-transactional, where you don’t give to get and where service to the collective and common good is first and foremost in our day-to-day actions. Of course, in reality, this requires a degree of irritating personal sacrifices, boring tiffs about chores, tricky balances of who-does-what-when and lots of experimentation with routines, especially with a new baby.

Family can be a sanctuary, the heart in a heartless world, loving and joyful, safe and secure for our partners and children. Not a quagmire of fear, financial burdens, bills and breakdowns.

So who really are the defenders of our family lives, the tabloids and the Conservatives – or trade union leaders like Lynch and Dempsey? The West’s economic decline and the legacy of Thatcherite rampant individualism are really the biggest barriers to building a fulfilling home. In fact, it’s probably only those fighting for economic transformation who can really save the family.