A government-backed study has found that by encouraging couples to attend marriage courses or marriage counselling, billions of pounds a year could be saved by reducing the number of divorces and relationship breakdowns.
The study is the first of its kind and has calculated that successful relationship initiatives could pay for themselves as much as 11 times over, if the social cost of divorce and separation is taken into consideration.
The study comes of the back of estimates that broken relationships cost the UK somewhere between £20 billion and £44 billion every year. These huge costs are in the form of additional benefits for lone parents, spending on health and housing, along with areas of the criminal justice system that are linked to family breakdown.
A research group led by experts from the Tavistock Institute analysed the success rates of three different sorts of marriage and relationship courses run by a range of charities, including Marriage Care, Relate and Care for the Family.
The courses included a traditional programme designed to prepare couples for marriage, shorter sessions to help ‘established’ couples and professional counselling sessions for couples coping with relationship problems.
Hundreds of participants took part in in-depth interviews and surveys a couple of months after completing one of the relationship or marriage courses. In all cases, couples spoke of how their behaviour hand changed or how they had learned strategies to improve communication or cope with conflict.
However, researchers found that that statistically, the most significant effects were found amongst couples who had attended the marriage preparation courses run by Marriage Care, a Roman Catholic charity, and counselling sessions run by Relate. After running a cost-benefit analysis for each course, researchers concluded that for each pound spend on a couple attending a Relate counselling course the public saved £11.40, whilst preparation sessions run by Marriage Care could amount to up to £11.50 for each £1 spend on session fees.
The Department of Education funded the research and there are now calls for a national campaign to encourage couples to seek help to improve their relationships before problems even begin. The report recommends intensive publicity in registry offices, with the possibility of discounts on wedding fees for couples who opt to attend a pre-marriage course.
Relate’s chief executive, Ruth Sutherland, said: “Given that relationship breakdown is estimated to cost the UK economy tens of billions each year, it is clear that future investment in relationship support services will continue to bring very real financial and social benefits.”
The Conservative MP and chairman of an all-party group on relationships, Andrew Selous, said that the report showed the the UK could potentially save billions of pounds every year by increasing investment into marriage and relationship courses: “I think that is absolutely the case – if you look at the increased benefits bill in terms of supporting single parents; if you look at the extra housing for individuals when coupes separate; if you look at educational underachievement or if you look at the youth justice system – the Youth Justice Board says that 70 per cent of young people in custody have an absent father.
“There is a whole host of Government budgets you could go through and say that these costs would be less if you have more stable families.
“I think that the Prime Minister really gets this.
“My frustration is that it is an area that very often sinks down the political priority list when economic issues come to the fore.
“I feel this is an integral part of restoring the public finances but I do think we need real political will to join up the dots.”
Mr Selous added: “I think we need to change attitudes in this country, we need to think of this as like going to the gym rather than going to the surgery.”