Cost of family breakdown reaches record high

Relationships Foundation’s updated annual “Cost of Family Failure Index” 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.

Despite cuts to government spending on services dealing with the fallout from family breakdown, soaring rates of family failure has meant the average taxpayer is now shouldering the 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: “This Government has to confront the issue of family breakdown if it is serious about getting public spending under control.

“Only last week (Monday 8 February), the IFS revealed the Chancellor will struggle to meet his deficit reduction targets and is facing a £2 billion black hole in his financial plans. He can no longer ignore the ballooning cost of family breakdown.

“To date this Government’s efforts to reduce family breakdown has been little more than hot air. Last year we welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of a ‘Family Test’ to scrutinise all policy ideas for their impact on family unity and welfare. We hoped this would begin to turn the tanker of family instability.

“Little progress has, however, been made in the past year and this important initiative has not achieved the political traction that is needed.

“The Prime Minister needs to revisit the Family Test and give it some real teeth. If you look to the Green agenda, they have made surprisingly fast progress through applying these sort of tests and measures. The family breakdown crisis is no less serious.

“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 Relationships Foundation has never been in the business of spreading doom and gloom, but neither are we naive. There is a cost to relationship breakdown and it is large – currently £48 billion, up from £37 billion when the exercise began in 2009.

The huge charge of family breakdown falls to the public purse. We argue that only when this cost is measured and taken seriously will people recognise how important relationships are to general wellbeing and happiness. 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. Very quickly people see that this is more than economics and that we always need to set the economic cost in the much broader personal and social context of the often intense pain and suffering felt by those experiencing family failure, especially when there are children involved. 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.


Click here to see the full report.


Media contact:

John Ashcroft,Research Director, Relationships Foundation:


Phone: 01223 909408