Cost of family breakdown runs into billions

According to a welfare minister, the true cost of family breakdowns in the UK is higher and far deeper than just the multi-billion pound Benefits bill. The parliamentary under-secretary in the department for Work and Pensions, Lord Freud, stated that the £9 billion paid out annually in single-parent benefits is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the full social cost of family separation should be taken into account too.

Lord Freud also issued a call for marriage to be put back in its “rightful place” after a rapid increase in the number of children who are being brought up by parents who are not married. Lord Freud stated that co-habiting couples were four times as likely to split up compared with those who were married.

The real cost of relationship breakdown to the UK economy

The minister’s comments came with the acknowledgement that the annual bill for family splits in the UK could be as much as £46 billion.

In a speech in the House of Lords, Lord Freud also argued that the Government should be actively trying to halt the decline in the number of couples who are choosing to marry and cohabit instead. He spoke in answer to a point raised by the Right Reverend Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, about the cost to the taxpayer of separating families.

Lord Freud responded by stating that the total cost of single parent benefits and administering the collection of child maintenance payments was just under £9 billion a year, but that these figures only gave a partial picture. Lord Freud referenced a study by the Relationships Foundations which found that family breakdown in Britain costs £46 billion a year which is equal to just over £1500 for each UK tax payer. This estimate includes the costs associated with placing children in care and a portion of the budgets for the NHS, education and justice departments.

There have been several studies linking family separations with children falling behind at school, struggling to find a job, poor mental health and becoming involved in criminality.

Lord Freud backed his arguments with a series of facts and figures related to family breakdown. He indicated that the government’s annual single parent benefits bill is over £8 billion, and it costs over £500 million a year to run the Child Support Agency which looks after over 1 million child support cases and payments. There is an estimated 2.5 lone parent families in the UK with over 4 million children. One million single parents claim Housing Benefits, but despite the welfare payments, almost three quarters of a million children of lone parents are described as being in “relative poverty”.

When asked about what exactly the Coalition is doing to promote marriage, Lord Freud claimed that the number of couples living together had doubled in less than a generation. The number of cohabiting couples is now 1.2 million, and Lord Freud stated that cohabitees with a child under three are four times more likely to split up than a married couple.

Chancellor George Osborne has promised to introduce a tax break of £150 for couples who are married, and Iain Duncan Smith the Work and Pensions secretary has also been looking at the Benefits system to remove the “couple penalty”.

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