According to the minister for welfare reform, Lord Freud, the real cost of divorce and family breakdown cuts much ‘deeper’ and ‘far higher’ than the many billions of pounds spent by the government on welfare benefits.
Making his comments in an article for The Telegraph, Lord Freud has said that the current £9 billion spent on benefits for single parents is minute in comparison to the wider social cost of divorce and separation.
Lord Freud has also made calls for marriage to be ‘put back into its rightful place’ following a rise in the number of children raised in single parent households who, according to Lord Freud, were four times as likely to have to cope with the separation of their parents than children whose parents were married.
In Lord Freud’s article he acknowledges that that separation and divorce could be costing the UK economy up to a massive £46 billion per year. Whilst speaking in the House of Lords, he also stated that the government should make efforts to try to reverse ‘major structural changes’ in society which have led to a trend towards cohabitation rather than marriage.
Lord Freud’s remarks in the Lords were made in response to a question posed by the Right Reverend Peter Foster, the Bishop of Chester, regarding the costs to the government’s welfare budget arising from the breakdown of families. According to Lord Freud, the combined cost of collecting maintenance payments and single parent benefits is a little under £9 billion per year but that these figures did not tell the whole story.
Pointing to a study that has been carried out the Relationships Foundation, he estimated that the current cost of family breakdown to UK taxpayers is around £46 billion per year which is the equivalent of £1,541 for each taxpayer.
In his Telegraph article, Lord Freud explained that: “It would be easy to put a financial cost to society from family breakdown, but the social cost is far higher and its impacts far deeper.
“On the face of it, we pay around £8.4 billion annually to lone parents in benefits and around £500 million a year running the Child Support Agency that administers more than a million child support cases.
“There are an estimated 2.5 million separated families with 4.1 million children – and one million lone parents claiming Housing Benefit in the current financial year.
“But is it is a sad fact that 700,000 children living in lone parent families were in relative poverty.
“That is why this Government is working to fix the problem that previous governments left behind.
“I make no apology for stating that we have a clear duty to try out best to ensure that stable families are in place, so we can ensure stable futures for children.”
When questioned about what measures the government was taking to promote marriage, Lord Freud said that the number of couples who were cohabiting had increased two-fold in under a generation to 1.2 million: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.
“However there are major structural societal changes behind those trends and it will take an enormous amount of effort to start putting marriage back into its rightful place and that is exactly one of the things that we are looking to do with the Family Stability Review.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has been addressing the so-called penalties against couples in the current benefits system, whilst George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has promised a tax break of £150 for married couples.
However, Bishop Foster has said that the government faced an uphill struggle when faced with cutting spending on welfare whilst the rate of family breakdown remains high: “We are trying to keep the welfare budget under control but relationship breakdown has caused the welfare budget to spiral out of control.
“This isn’t just about bishops constantly banging on about moral ideas; it actually hits people’s pockets.”
To read Lord Freud’s article for the Telegraph, please visit the Telegraph’s website.