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Curbing family breakdown could halve the deficit, finds new report

Date: March 17, 2014
  • The Marriage Foundation launches its alternative Budget 2014 today
  • The report reveals four measures to halve the UK’s £46 billion spend on family breakdown, which the Chancellor is likely to have deemed inevitable expenditure
  • Proposals include putting a minister for families in the Cabinet and focusing the transferable tax allowance on newlywed couples

As George Osborne prepares for the 2014 Budget on Wednesday, he is likely to have ruled out the possibility of saving a portion of UK spending the equivalent of the entire defence budget.

By taking measures to address the ‘epidemic’ of family fragmentation, the Chancellor stands to save up to half of the annual £46 billion cost of relationship breakdown a year.

The sum equates to the salary of almost 1,050,000 nurses or 1,535,000 new army recruits. It could deliver four High Speed Rail 1s or subsidise two new runways at Heathrow.

The total cost of family breakdown figure, calculated in a study by the Relationships Foundation, takes into account the £9 billion in paid out in lone parent benefits, but also the costs of educational failure, juvenile delinquency and mental health problems linked to family breakdown.

The proportion of teenagers currently not living with both of their parents currently stands at 45 per cent and is due to rise to 50 per cent for children born in 2013, according to previous research by the Marriage Foundation.

Centre for Social Justice research has found that a child of 16 years old is more likely to have a television in their bedroom than a father at home.

The new Marriage Foundation report advocates a re-focus on the family in policy-making to curb the soaring rate of family breakdown.

Specifically it recommends introducing a minister responsible for families into the Cabinet to put family breakdown firmly back on the agenda as an issue in need of redress.

It also proposes distinguishing marriage as opposed to cohabitation on government forms, adapting the transferable tax allowance to go to married mothers with children under three, and moving all NHS ante-natal services into Surestart Centres to improve awareness of relationship support services.

Harry Benson of The Marriage Foundation criticises the Government for repeatedly failing to stand up for marriage:

“The Government suffers from a paralysing fear of appearing judgemental. In an article he wrote in September last year, David Cameron argued in favour of marriage, before going on to say, ‘Naturally, there are people across the country who have never married and are just as committed to each other.’

“What Mr Cameron omitted to mention is that these people are rare. They are the exception. Just 7 per cent of parents who remain together up until their child’s sixteenth birthday are unmarried.

“93 per cent of long-term ‘survivor’ couples are married.

“Of course nobody is saying that society or the government should be judging anyone who does not decide to marry.

“But encouraging couples to make the big step to commit and marry is not is a sign of judgement. It is entirely pragmatic.

“The principal that government policy should favour behaviours that have positive outcomes for public health, over behaviours with negative outcomes, is largely undisputed.

“No-one would suggest, for instance, that non-smokers and non-drinkers should pay the greater share of the tax that helps off-set the cost of smoking and drinking to the NHS.

“So why make married couples pay more for staying intact? There is currently a £7,100 penalty on couples who live together.

“In the Autumn Statement, the Government brought in a well-intentioned but insignificant tax break of £200 a year for married couples.

“If your marriage is experiencing difficulties, £200 is not going to motivate you to make it through the tough times, but £7,100 might be enough to make you think it’s not worth the effort of making the marriage work.”

“That’s why the Marriage Foundation is recommending amending the transferable tax allowance to focus on married mothers with a first child under three.

“Half of all family breakdown takes place within the first three years of a child’s life. Three quarters of this involves unmarried parents.

“By focusing the same money on couples during the time at which they are most vulnerable to family breakdown and most likely to succumb to the current perverse financial incentives in the tax system, the government can deliver a meaningful tax break and actually help prevent family fragmentation.

The report also recommends the transfer of all NHS ante-natal services into Surestart centres, which were set up to improve children’s outcomes by providing family support.

By channelling parents to Surestart centres from the beginning of their children’s lives, The Marriage Foundation argues that couples would be more likely to return to the same centre later when in need of relationship support.

The total government budget for relationship support is £7.5 million. For every £100 spent on the costs of relationship breakdown, 1.6p is spent on relationship support.

Harry Benson added: “It is truly extraordinary when so much taxpayer money is spend on the direct costs of family breakdown that there appears to be so little ministerial recognition of the scale of the problem or awareness of the reasons behind it.

“By following the four distinct proposals laid out by The Marriage Foundation in this report, the Chancellor has an opportunity to save the country billions of pounds and improve the chances for the next generation to be brought up in a stable family environment.

ENDS

Notes to editors:
For media inquiries please contact Beatrice Timpson on 07803 726 977.
Harry Benson is available to be interviewed, on 07515 699187.

The Marriage Foundation was founded by Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court Judge, moved by his personal experience in 40 years as a barrister and judge specialising in family law. The Foundation seeks to improve public understanding of marriage reduce the numbers of people drawn into the family justice system – some 500,000 children and adults each year. www.marriagefoundation.org.uk

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