The Cost of Family Breakdown
By Family Matters
This report by Family Matters Institute into the social and economic costs of family breakdown in Britain today was commissioned by the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group and launched at a conference, The Family in Crisis, Economic and Social Costs, Stabilisation and Recovery, in September 2000.
It looks first of all at the background of family breakdown, how the issues are largely being ignored by politicians and how the cost can be quantified. An estimate of £15 billion of direct costs is proposed, that is £11 a week to each UK tax payer!
The next chapter considers demographic issues around marriage and family: trends in marriage, taxation and marriage, and the impact of divorce, lone parenting and cohabitation on social and economic factors in families.
Subsequent chapters cover the impact of family breakdown on a wide range of issues crime, education, health, incidences of domestic violence and abuse, productivity, benefits, pensions and care of the elderley, the NHS and housing.
Government policy past and present towards marriage and the family is reviewed and a full range of recommendations made to strengthen marriage. These include changes to general policy, legislature, fiscal policy, media policy, and the collection of statistics. The creation of a National Marriage Project on the lines of the American model and the establishment and strengthening of existing programmes for marriage education, primary prevention and support are also recommended.
The report concludes that family breakdown has serious consequences for society and in particular for the well being of children. The authors offer a challenge to engage with ideas to strengthen the family and in particular marriage. Do we as a society want to recover the ideal of fatherhood, do we want strong or weak families? If we do want strong families then we need to accept the importance of marriage. The evidence that adults and children thrive better in families built around strong marriages is compelling.
The purpose of the report is "to alert Parliament and the British people to the serious state of affairs which prevails in family life", and, in particular, to "challenge those who are indifferent to, or even contemptuous of, 'family values' to acknowledge the financial and social costs which society at large is paying - costs which show no sign of diminishing".
It is refreshing to read a report which acknowledges the importance of strong marriages in building strong families. The majority of young people in Britain still aspire to lifelong marriage, but need support to fulfill their aspirations. There are many who work in the area of marriage support and education who would welcome investment in the prevention of marriage and family breakdown. A fraction of the money currently being spent to pick up the pieces would go a long way to counteract the processes that lead to the damage and distress experienced by too many couple and families. I hope government, the church and policy makers will take the contents of this report to heart and act on it.
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Review by Liz Percival
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