Good-quality couple and family relationships, as a wealth of evidence demonstrates (please see the ‘Supporting Evidence’ counterpart to this document, linked below), play a vital role in determining the health and wellbeing of adults and improving outcomes for children. Research shows that adults in poor-quality and distressed relationships are much more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, and from poor physical health. There is also clear evidence that poor-quality parental relationships and inter-parental conflict in particular have a negative impact on children’s mental health and long-term life chances across many areas.
Relationships also have clear economic consequences, in terms of the costs to public services of responding to the effects of poor-quality relationships and inter-parental conflict. Investing in support for good-quality relationships therefore makes economic sense, as a means to more efficient public services and early intervention. Failing to invest in support for relationships will mean that money spent on public services could be wasted.
Government should support healthy couple, co-parenting and family relationships. A robust agenda to do so will help resolve parental conflict, reduce health demand, improve children’s educational attainment, and ensure people can better protect themselves from shocks such as losing a job, debt, family breakdown, or long-term health conditions.
We are calling on all political parties to commit to the following seven priorities for policy in their 2017 manifesto and to make them a reality if elected:
1. A new comprehensive cross-government relationships strategy, with a cabinet Minister for Families and Relationships.
Relationship support works: the Government’s own evaluation shows that that relationship counselling could save £11.40 for every £1 spent. A dedicated Minister would raise awareness of the importance of good-quality relationships for wellbeing in all policy, promote the support available, plus manage and communicate the savings that will inevitably be made across multiple departments.
2. Training for frontline practitioners about relationships in recognition that staff providing public services could identify relationship issues before it is too late. With specialist training, GPs, nurses, health visitors, teachers, mental health professionals, children’s centre workers, social workers, housing officers and others can play a vital role in supporting healthy relationships, identifying relationship distress, signposting to specialist services, and screening for domestic violence and abuse.
3. Relationships and Sex Education must be taught by trained, confident experts in charities and specialist teachers. Every young person should have access to good-quality RSE. The Department for Education should develop standards for those delivering RSE and set an expectation that schools recognise that developing relational capability is an important function of education and a child’s future.
4. Develop a clear focus on out-of-court alternative dispute resolution for separating families, with joined-up information and support. This will reduce inter-parental conflict, while promoting collaboration and positive co-parenting relationships. Parents need an easier-to-navigate alternative dispute resolution pathway if we are to create better outcomes for children and families that are separating.
5. Invest in a programme of universal information, self-help and preventative relationship support to promote people’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, understand relationships and conflict management, and to provide support. Life transition points such as moving in together, having a baby, or getting married should be a focus, together with maximising the choice how support is delivered, including online and blended face-to-face services.
6. Fund provision of affordable (subsidised/free) relationship support for low-income and disadvantaged groups, who may be most at risk of relationship distress and its damaging impacts on children. The Government will recoup money spent here as people in supportive relationships have improved health and are less reliant on other public services.
7. Expand the availability of couple therapy for depression within the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. The most recent IAPT statistics show that Couple Therapy for Depression achieves a recovery rate of 58% – the highest for any IAPT therapy, and higher than the target recovery rate of 50%. Yet despite the impressive evidence for its effectiveness, Couple Therapy for Depression currently accounts for just 0.4% of sessions delivered in IAPT.1
Who we are: The Relationships Alliance
The Relationships Alliance consists of four charities with expertise in supporting good quality relationships – Relate, OnePlusOne, Tavistock Relationships, and Marriage Care. Our vision is of a future in which strong and stable couple, family, and social relationships are supported as the basis of a thriving society. Every year, well over a million people access information, education, support and therapy through our services, and together we provide a spectrum of support for good quality relationships, ranging from providing information and resources for self-help, to counselling and therapy. The Alliance collectively has a wealth of experience in supporting relationships in both direct service provision and research.
1 HSCIC (2016) Psychological Therapies: Annual Report on the use of IAPT services. England, 2015/16