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Assessing true toll of the recession

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This first appeared in the Wigan Observer on September 23rd 2014

Q: How has the recession affected families?

When the so called “great recession” hit the UK in 2008, it caused huge and well publicised problems for the financial markets, big business and the whole banking system that impacted upon practically everyone’s life with the inevitable strain on finances of a whole swathe of society and job losses that continue today (despite the decrease in “Unemployment”) and repossessions of homes having a devastating impact for family life.

However, for all the impact upon ordinary lives, stories still abound of those that actually increased their wealth and there are some suggestions that the wealthiest 1000 individuals in the UK have actually doubled there own assets since the start of the recession. An extreme example perhaps but it would seem illustrate the suggestion that the recent times have been a little bit better for some of society, perhaps at the expense of the majority.

From the years of 2007 to 2011, the “middle income” household types saw their income fall by an estimate of £3,200 per year, a huge chunk of an average family’s needs and although it would seem the economy has slowly recovered there is a lasting legacy as a result of the damage done and evidence for the 'social recession' is still very much visible and the concern is the impact will also affect future generations.

Between April 2008 and October 2009 unemployment raised by 877,000 to 2.49 million people. The loss of jobs didn't just affect families financially, it also undoubtedly caused stress and upset that may lead to psychological and mental health conditions, themselves a contributor to family breakdown. Other issues affecting everyday life following the loss of a job and home, might be the obvious house move or change schools, all in addition to the usual stress and strain of “normal” family life.

Unfortunately it would seem from recent research and date analysis by the relationship charity Relate, that it is not just the financial picture that is better for some, but also that the less well off sections of society have shared a disproportionate burden of the impact on family life resulting in relationship breakdown, and the children of such relationships finding themselves in uncertain situations perhaps and facing the prospect of life without both parents on hand.

The timing of Family Law and Legal Aid changes over the last couple of years, and the limits they placed upon families getting help with their situation, have meant that there has been a perfect storm of difficulties for a large proportion of the population who are only just now trying to move themselves on.

The study suggests that couples that were negatively affected by the recession were 8 times more likely to break up than couples who were not as affected. The study took place between 2008 and 2012 which examined 20,000 relationships. The results found that the recession took more of a toll on poorer families, with those who lost their job or fell into debt more likely to break up. Also harder-hit couple's experiences were more severe, reporting to feel less happy, more arguments and more frequent thoughts on whether to end their relationship.

During the recession, divorce statistics significantly decreased falling from 128,131 before the recession to 113,949 during the recession in 2009. Although the numbers dropped during this time, this may be more likely due to the fact that people could no longer afford to separate due to the perceived “cost” to do so. However towards the end of the recession the “trend” in divorce and separation began to increase again.

The number of domestic abuse incidents was also affected by the great recession with the number of recorded incidents rising significantly to more than 2100 attacks per week. It was also reported that incidents rose by 17% between the years of 2008 and 2012, taking the figure from 674,756 to 793,526 a year. Aside from the Human cost the financial fall out from this should be a concern for all as the tax payer is left with a burden which includes increased policing, health and social care costs, as well as increased benefit and other claims from those finding themselves in a vulnerable situation.

Better relationships are the key to overcoming the 'social recession'. Healthy and positive relationships are extremely important to people's well-being, engaging with education and gaining independence. The Government recently tried to help in providing additional funding for Relate to help couples talk things through, to help families work better, whether or not they are together or apart. Although sadly some may think it is too little too late for many.