This report measures the cost of family breakdown to the public purse in Canada for the fiscal year 2005-2006. It estimates the funding directed at poverty alleviation due to family breakdown.
The results show the cost of serving broken families is almost $7 billion annually. If we were able to cut family breakdown in half, we would save $1.78 billion annually. $1.78 billion is not half of $7 billion because we assume that if 50 per cent fewer families were broken, about 50 per cent of those would still remain in poverty. These are very conservative estimates, based upon very realistic measures of what could result if family stability were to improve.
Included in this calculation are means-tested provincial programs geared toward alleviating poverty; programs that fall under housing, child care and welfare. We estimate the savings that could be realized if family breakdown were to decrease by half by calculating the subsequent decrease in government transfers. We have chosen to be conservative in our estimate by excluding associated justice and education costs, which include, for example, the existence of family courts and agencies that enforce child support payments.
This report also highlights the extent to which family breakdown has contributed to the feminization of poverty and the fact that family structure matters in the long term fight against poverty, in particular child poverty. If we are serious about reducing poverty, valuable short term solutions, like food banks and shelters, must partner with long term solutions, which include examining family structure and eradicating family breakdown.
A substantive body of research shows that children fare best when raised in a married, two-parent family home. Research also shows that family breakdown is linked to poverty. Where families fail, governments step up to the plate to act as a kind of replacement family. This should not be viewed as the ideal.
Clearly, the greatest harm done by family breakdown lies in personal suffering. However, there is a financial element to divorce and non-marital childbearing. This report estimates the fiscal cost to the public purse. Our hope is that increased information will encourage Canadians to make healthy family choices, and governments to nurture strong families through improved public policy.