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The summer riots of 2011 have once again focussed a spotlight on family responsibility and function.
Such interest is founded on the belief that stable relationships are fundamental to a stable society. Any nation needs people to have functional personal lives if they are to be effective citizens, i.e. productive workers, good parents, worthwhile neighbours and so on. It follows that dysfunctional relationships make greater demands on the public purse whether as a result of decreased worker productivity or increased demands on the health, care, and legal professions as a result of relationships gone wrong.
Studies suggest that conflict between parents accounts for 40% of child educational and employment failure, involvement in crime, early sexual activity, and mental health problems. Failures in relationships therefore have a direct and detrimental effect on adults, children and by extension society at large.
It is a measure of the significance of relationship issues that the current government made the following commitment in its coalition agreement: 'We will put funding for relationship support on a stable, long-term footing, and make sure that couples are given greater encouragement to use existing relationship support.' We do well to ask what exactly relationship support means. Does it only come into play when a relationship has broken down? Should it be proactive rather than reactive? Are there ways in which we can learn how to conduct good relationships, ways in which we can acquire the necessary skills that will help us avoid the pitfalls of failed relationships. If so, where and when should such 'education' happen? Is it a matter for the education system? The health service? Can it operate across government? Have we the right providers? We should also ask what other factors might contribute to relationship support. Is there an argument for tax incentive schemes as a way of encouraging marriage and decreasing divorce? Are there international comparators? What is the evidence for and against such schemes?
In late 2010, the Prime Minister announced the government's intention to measure people's wellbeing by indicators other than the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He said that, "Relying solely on GDP to track the nation's progress excludes many of the things that we all know to be important, but that can't be measured by money." Research shows that among those many things that we all know to be important, human relationships figure prominently. Indeed, relationships often feature above wealth and status on people's 'happiness index'.
The purpose of this consultation was to look at the question of relationships in the round, to explore the ethos, practice and place of relationships in contemporary British society.