Our relationships matter. There's now a wealth of evidence that good quality relationships with families, partners, friends, and others not only are key to our happiness, but are also fundamental to achieving numerous public policy objectives, such as improving adults' and children's health and wellbeing; raising educational attainment; supporting good parenting; and transforming the life chances of the country's poorest children.
Good quality relationships are also the bedrock of a successful economy, while poor quality relationships and relationship breakdown incur substantial costs for the state in picking up the pieces - estimated to run into billions.
In the face of this mounting evidence on how the quality of our relationships impacts on so many aspects of our lives, government has increasingly put welcome investment and energy into supporting good quality relationships.
However, action to strengthen relationships so far has tended to be disconnected, lacking clear strategic leadership and coordination across government. As a result, the current 'market' for relationship support is narrow (consisting primarily of specialist organisations delivering crisis support such as counselling or therapy, for instance), fragmented (comprising a range of suppliers operating on a small scale in what appears to the customer as a confusing maze without clear pathways), and under-developed (as new initiatives have developed piecemeal and relying on injections of public funding in pursuit of varying policy objectives). There are barriers which prevent many people who could benefit from accessing support for their relationships, including the continuing stigma around help-seeking in relationships, accessibility of support and the lack of coordination or coherent pathways, and - for those on lower incomes - affordability.
Relate's new report, All Together Now: Stronger relationships for a stronger society, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, therefore highlights the need for a much better, more joined-up system of support for good quality relationships. This report sets out an ambitious and extensive, yet also realistic, compelling, and evidence-based vision for how support for good quality relationships could be strengthened over the next 10 years - and sets out a comprehensive action plan and recommendations for policy makers as to how this vision could be achieved.
Since good quality relationships are so important to achieving so many policy objectives, it is time that support for our couple, family and social relationships was prioritised and put right at the heart of policy. We need to take support for good quality relationships from the margins to mainstream.
Our vision in this report is that support for good quality relationships to be taken beyond the current confines of a narrow, specialised market for support, towards a full-spectrum approach which:
- delivers a joined-up strategic focus on relationships across national and local government;
- embeds support for good quality relationships and relational ways of working across mainstream public services;
- sparks a social movement for good quality relationships which tackles cultural barriers and normalises conversations about relationships;
- expands access to 'direct' relationship support;
- increases targeted support for vulnerable groups most at risk;
- brings employers into the fold to support good work-family balance;
- improves accessibility through coordination and multi-channel delivery; and
- breaks the cost barrier.
As this report makes clear, this 10-year vision for support for good quality relationships is not just about government policy; we all benefit from good quality relationships, and we all bear the costs of poor quality relationships. Supporting good quality relationships as the basis of a stronger society is therefore something in which we all have a stake and all bear responsibility - as individuals, civil society, businesses, as well as national and local government. Hence the report's title: 'All Together Now.'
However, the current gap between the Government's ambitious agenda to improve family stability and the existing capacity of services, means that in the short-term, much of what we recommend in the report falls to central government - who, through adopting the approach we set out and inputting initial investment (financial stimulus, but also time and energy), may act as a catalyst and spark action across local government, employers, civil society and individuals.
We hope that decision makers will take up the challenge we have set out - and Relate stands ready to support the implementation of this vision to strengthen and improve the quality of the nation's relationships as the basis of a stronger society.
The report, All Together Now: Stronger relationships for a stronger society , is being launched today (Tuesday 10th February) at the Relate Lecture with Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP. The Secretary of State will be speaking about the Government's vision for relationship support at the event.