05/05/2017 13:06 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 13:06 BST

Politicians Must Start Focusing On A Different Divorce Bill

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With Brexit dominating the general election campaign, politicians of all colours need. to explain how they will tackle a divorce bill that's much closer to home: the £48 billion annual cost to the UK economy of family breakdown.

So I've written to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to set out their plans to address the nation's family breakdown bill, which has gone up by nearly a third in the last eight years.

Family breakdown costs the UK economy £48 billion per year. That's a cost to each and every taxpayer up and down the land of £1,820 a year.

Attention during this general election campaign is understandably targeted on the negotiations and the cost of the UK's departure from the European Union.

But whilst estimates about the costs of Brexit range from £15 billion to £50 billion, politicians would be plain daft to overlook the escalating £48 billion annual family breakdown bill. They need to set out what plans they have to reduce it.

Family mediators understand better than most people that the primary impact of divorce and separation is the stress and pain felt by those whose families are undergoing break-up - especially the children. But simply ignoring the bill the taxpayer is expected to foot cannot be an option.

It would be folly to overlook the effect that badly managed family breakdown has on our UK economy, and taxpayers' pockets.

When The Relationships Foundation first researched the cost to the economy of family breakdown in 2009, it stood at £37 billion per year. The Foundation's latest update in 2016 shows it has rocketed to £48 billion.

Unless the government - whatever its political colour - takes control the bill will just rise and rise. And there will be still less in the public purse for the things we expect our tax to pay for, like health, education, defence and tackling crime.

Politicians are continually quizzed about explaining how they'll pay for the promises they unveil on those very issues at election time, so it's only fair that the public should expect the parties to explain their strategy to reduce the family breakdown bill they are expected to meet from their hard-earned taxes.

The severe disruption to people's lives often means they become prone to depression, anxiety and psychological problems created by the stress of the end of the marriage. Then there's absenteeism from work whilst they tend to their private affairs. They often find the financial woes leading from the divorce mean they need State benefit help.

On top of this there's lower work productivity as they can't manage their chaotic private and family life, as they may be losing their home, the kids may be misbehaving at school, and the court cases might be mounting.

The hidden costs to the taxpayer of family breakdown include the bill to pay for things that can result from divorce and separation, including:

• Tax credits

• Lone parent benefits

• Housing benefit and council tax benefit

• Emergency housing following domestic violence

• Physical and mental health

• Social services and care

• Children in care

• Police and prisons

• Courts, legal services and legal aid

• Child maintenance

• Educational provision following disciplinary and behavioural issues

• Free school meals

• Educational maintenance allowance

• Tertiary education drop out

• Young people not in education, employment or training

There really is a different way. There's huge potential in the government actively embracing alternative means of resolving family disputes.

When a couple separates, there are huge issues to address surrounding things like parenting, property and money. It's sadly become the norm for couples to go to a lawyer, and spend huge sums of a court battle that sees them and their children end up much poorer.

Family mediation is a short, time-limited intervention that helps people resolve all the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce or separation. It helps couples sort their differences much more quickly, much more cheaply and much less stressfully. Effective government backing for the process is long overdue.

It's a proven no-brainer, but successive governments have failed to properly support the family mediation model. It's time for that to change.