Cost of Family Failure: £47 bn and still rising


Relationships Foundation has just updated its annual “Cost of Family Failure Index”, and can reveal the 2015 cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer is £47 billion – costing each taxpayer £1,546 a year.

Despite cuts in government spending, the cost of family failure continues to rise.  And the continuing upward movement of the Index doesn’t even begin to take into account the often intense pain and suffering felt by those experiencing family failure – the broken hearts and the broken dreams. But the Index mainly shows that family breakdown not only has this terrible human cost in terms of the emotional toll on all members of the family, but also an enormous financial cost to society as the taxpayer picks up the pieces.

Commenting on the figures, Michael Trend, Executive Director of the Foundation said:

“In the past year the government made some progress by introducing a Family Test of policy, which we welcomed, but which – especially in an election year – needs to be promoted and protected with vigour. The fact remains that the cost of family failure remains much too high.

“Our view is that if you sideline family policy you court systemic failure. If we as a country want to see real progress in improving wellbeing, increasing children’s life chances, higher educational attainment, less crime and reduced welfare dependency we need to take what this Index is telling us seriously. All political parties need a long term strategy to support the modern family.”

As Harry Benson of Marriage Foundation recently said, “The Government now spends £47billion every year dealing with the fallout from broken relationships – half as much as the education budget and more than it spends on defence – and yet we have no policy on family breakdown. Family breakdown is driven by the trend away from marriage.”

Relationships Foundation’s annual “Cost of Family Failure Index” continues to receive widespread attention. We began the exercise in 2009 (when we estimated the cost to be £37 billion) to show the huge charge of family breakdown to the public purse. We argue that only when this cost is 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 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 the emotional costs should not be underestimated.

The “Cost of Family Failure Index” was first produced as part of a Relationships Foundation pamphlet “When Relationships Go Right/When Relationships Go Wrong”. This publication was noteworthy as the first (and almost certainly only!) think tank report which had to be read from both ends of the document. We presented our material in such a way because our 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 £47 billion.

Click here to see the full report.