Counting the Cost of Family Failure: £46bn and still rising

By March 18, 2013News

UPDATE: See press comment on this press release at the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.


The Relationships Foundation’s annual “Cost of Family Failure Index” is now widely quoted both in the UK and internationally. The latest update shows that the breakdown of relationships continues to be a huge charge on the public purse and has risen to £46bn a year (equivalent to a cost of £1,541 per taxpayer).


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


“Next week’s budget will address the nation’s finances. It will consider how businesses can grow the economy. But the vital output of families will not be part of the accounts, nor the £46 billion cost of their failure which is unsustainable in any economic climate, let alone the current one. And the continuing upward movement of the cost of family failure (up from £37bn in 2009) 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. For example, it is simply not acceptable that, at present rates, only half the children born today are likely to live with both birth parents by the time they are 16. [See Figure 1: ]


“We need a balanced overall budget: an economic plus a social budget that assesses the health and strength of the relationships on which we depend, and which create huge costs when they go wrong. The government depends on families for improvements in education, health, social care, welfare and criminal justice. Yet it is still ignored by Number 10; there are no published plans and no reports on progress with regard to family policy.”


Initiatives such as the Troubled Families Programme or funding for relationships support are welcome. But all families have a vital role to play and need support. Our Family Pressure Gauge showed that families in the UK are among the most pressured in Europe – burdened with high housing costs, consumer debt, long working hours and weekend working, child care costs, and unhealthy pressures on their children.


“We want to see the government deliver on its stated ambition of applying a family test to all policy, an initiative that will need political will and courage at the centre but doesn’t need to add any cost to the country’s taxpayers.”


Michael Trend added: “While we once had high hopes that the government meant what it said when David Cameron claimed that it would be the ‘most family friendly country in Europe’ we now deplore the way the costs of family failure continue to increase and the importance of family policy to the government continues to decrease.


“From the start of this government we urged the Prime Minister to put family policy right at the heart of his government. In particular we warned against leaving responsibility for family policy to a junior level at the Department for Education which would, understandably, be much occupied by the government’s agenda for educational reform.


Inevitably, that’s what has happened. And it’s not only our view, as was seen when former ministers from the Department itself gave evidence to the Education Select Committee this January. One of them, Tim Loughton MP, said that for the reasons we predicted – what he called the “bulldozer that was the schools reform programme” – “there has been some neglect of children and families”; and, worse, “My great concern is that the children and families agenda has been greatly downgraded since the reshuffle.”


“Outgoing Liberal Democrat Minister Sarah Teather added: ‘There was sometimes what I would describe as a creative tension between the interests of Number 10 and the Deputy Prime Minister and those of Michael [Gove]; their interests were more predominantly on the children and families area, and Michael’s very specific focus was on schools.’”


For further information, please contact For further information, please contact John Ashcroft, Research Director, on
 07952 357421, or


Notes to Editors

The latest edition of the “Cost of Family Failure Index” is available here.

David Cameron called for all policy to be subject to a family test in his speech following the summer riots of summer 2011

Remarks to the Select Committee are available at

The Relationships Foundation, established in 1993, is a Cambridge-based independent think tank seeking a better connected society. It studies the effect that culture, business and government have on relationships. It proposes new ideas for strengthening social connections, campaigns on issues where relationships are being undermined, and trains and equips people to think relationally for themselves.

The Relationships Foundation has been making the case for a clear over-arching family policy for a number of years. We begin our days in families, and they care for us in old age. Our families touch every aspect of our development as human beings, and of our lives at work, at home, and in society: as such they offer the greatest potential for social change, for wealth, and wellbeing. Our view is: sideline family policy and you court national failure.

The Index has run since 2009. The full figures are:


Summary of the costs of family failure, 2013*


(£ billion) (£ billion)
Tax and Benefits
Tax credits 9.79
Lone parent benefits 3.83
Housing benefit and council tax benefit 4.78
Emergency housing following domestic violence 0.14
Health and Social Care
Physical health 5.82
Mental health 1.79
Social services and care 5.51
Children in care 2.98
Civil and Criminal Justice
Police 5.09
Prisons 1.05
Court and legal services 0.56
Legal aid 0.88
Child Maintenance & Enforcement Commission 0.51
Education and Young People NEET
Disciplinary and behavioural problems 1.46
Vandalism and criminal damage in schools 0.61
Free school meals 0.24
Education Maintenance Allowance 0.18
Tertiary education 0.17
Young people NEET 0.67
Total costs of family breakdown 46.07

* The sum of items making up the sub-totals may differ slightly to the published sub-totals due to rounding up.

This latest update follows our four previous editions of this annual index. It shows a 4.8% increase from the previous year’s total of £43.94 billion and a substantial increase from £37.03 billion in 2009.[1]

To put it in context, this year’s figure of £46.07 billion is equivalent to nearly 3% of the UK’s GDP based on nominal prices, 38% of public sector net borrowing and 4% of public sector net debt.[2]

The relative sizes of the index’s five components have remained stable over time. Health and social care remains the largest component of the five (34%), followed by tax and benefits (30%), civil and criminal justice (18%), housing (11%), and education and young people NEET (7%).


Component costs of family failure, 2013 (£ billion)



[1] Wong, D. (2012), Counting the Cost of Family Failure: 2012 Update, Cambridge: Relationships Foundation; Lynas, P. (2010), Counting the Cost of Family Failure, Briefing Note 2, Cambridge: Relationships Foundation; Lynas, P., Trend, M. and Ashcroft, J. (2009), When Relationships Go Wrong: Counting the Cost of Family Failure, Cambridge: Relationships Foundation.

[2] Based on figures extracted from ONS Key Figures, (, accessed on 8 Mar 2013.