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Counting the cost of family faCost of family breakdown reaches record high

In February 2016, the Relationships Foundation updated their annual Cost of Family Failure Index. It reveals that the 2016 cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer has increased for the seventh year in a row to £48 billion, up from £37 million in 2009.

Government spending on services dealing with the fallout from family breakdown means the average taxpayer is now shouldering a financial burden of £1,820 a year, a rise of £274 from last year.

Commenting on the figures, Michael Trend, Executive Director of the Foundation said: “The Index must always be seen, of course, in the context of the emotional toll on individuals, families and the wider society in terms of the often intense pain and suffering felt by those experiencing family failure – the broken hearts and the broken dreams. What the Index shows is that, alongside this terrible human cost, there is also an enormous financial cost to the taxpayer who has to pick up the pieces.

The “Cost of Family Failure Index” was first produced as part of a Relationships Foundation pamphlet ‘When Relationships Go Right/When Relationships Go Wrong’ in 2009.

Relationships Foundation presented its material in such a way because the aim was not only to confront the extent of failure but also to suggest how to move towards solutions. So, When Relationships Go Wrong carried the subtitle “counting the cost of family failure” while When Relationships Go Right was concerned with “enabling thriving lives”.

The huge charge of family breakdown falls to the public purse. The Relationships Foundation argues that only when this cost is measured and taken seriously will people recognise how important relationships are to general wellbeing and happiness.

People see that this is more than economics. Family breakdown reduces health, wealth and wellbeing – the three things in which people are most interested. Reduced health, wealth and wellbeing all put pressure on relationships, thus reinforcing and perpetuating the vicious circle of breakdown.

With children now only having a 50:50 chance of living with both birth parents by the time they are 16 the scale and extent of both the financial and the emotional costs needs to be more widely recognised.

On the back of the update to the ”Cost of Family Failure Index”, the relationships charity, Relate, published a report, All together now: Stronger relationships for a stronger society, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions. It calls for support for good quality relationships to be taken from the margins to the mainstream.  The current system is built around crisis support rather than prevention, with providers delivering disconnected services. 

Relate recommends embedding support for good quality relationships and a strategic focus on relationships across central and local government, businesses and public services.  For example, they suggest that employers should promote relationship support to their employees and that the Government should develop a Family Friendly Employer quality mark. Other recommendations include ensuring that every secondary school provides access to counselling; piloting free and subsidised relationship counselling schemes for vulnerable groups; and a public education campaign to reduce the current stigma around seeking support for relationships.

This comes following the Prime Minister’s announcement in January that he would be doubling the funding available for relationship support to £70million over this Parliament.

Have we limited our relationship support to marriage preparation? It needs to be much broader.

Geoff Knott, 24/02/2016

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