Property News

Separated Couples can’t Afford to Live Apart

Em Morley - November 21, 2012

More and more ex-partners cannot afford to live in two separate households, as the issue spreads up the income ranks.

Middle-income couples are finding it increasingly difficult to take on two homes when their relationships end, says a new study.

Relationship counselling charity Relate, conducted the research that found nearly half of their counsellors see a rising amount of their 150,000 clients living together after a break up.1

Couples with children are more likely to live together after splitting up than those with no children, however both groups are finding it unmanageable to afford two houses.1

Chief Executive at Relate, Ruth Sutherland, says: “When we talk about Relate’s clients, we are not talking about people on low incomes. We’re talking about people in employment, on average to above-average incomes.”

Sutherland states that the charity has never witnessed this demographic struggling with their finances to the level that they cannot move out, and therefore on, from one another.

She continues: “These are people who could previously afford to move away from each other when their relationship broke down.

“But now, they are stretched just to pay their mortgage on top of the rising cost of living. When their relationship breaks down, they find they can’t afford two mortgages, on top of the cost of running two homes.”

She added that the cost of childcare is another difficult issue. An average of 27% of the UK’s parents’ salaries is spent on childcare, a huge difference to the 13% European average.1

Sutherland says: “To pay for the increased childcare demands that come with being a single parent has become a pipe dream for many people, even those in well-paid jobs.”

High-earning couples could see themselves in the same situation, as the economic climate continues to worsen. Sutherland adds: “I would not be surprised at all to see the problem creeping up the salary band. This era of austerity we’re in is not like other hard times we have lived through.

“In the past, we’ve had a dip and then recovery, but now we’re in unknown territory about the length of time people are going to have to cope with debt, job insecurity, pressure from work and the mounting cost of childcare.

“The only thing we know is that people are going to have to copy with these problems for longer than they would ever have done so before.”

40% of Relate counsellors are seeing more couples break up than two years ago, as many state money worries as a major reason.1

“It’s vital for the future of our children, and thus the future health of our nation, that estranged parents manage their separation well,” says Sutherland. “Children learn about relationships at home. If they see their parents undermining each other, arguing and being vindictive, then that’s the foundation on which they will build their own relationships. It’s not only the adults who, if stuck in a toxic situation, are going to be damaged.”

Sutherland claimed that this is the reason she is increasingly worried about separated couples unable to afford their counselling courses.

At least 80% of counsellors saw a rising number of couples unable to properly begin or end their programmes.1

More than 70% of counsellors also said that money problems, including debt, unemployment, and rising living costs had become worse for their clients in the last two years.1

Around 90% said that these financial difficulties made their clients depressed, and 80% claimed that couples argued more as a consequence, and 65% said that this affected their clients’ physical health.

Sutherland says: “Let’s all be clear about the real cost of austerity; the impact of being in a relationship that isn’t working is toxic. It is harmful to your children and it permeates every other aspect of your life.

“If the Government wanted to protect the mental health of the country, both now and in the future, they would target these cuts differently.”

The Department of Work and Pensions found in October that 79% of children under one live with both of their birth parents. This declines to 55% by the time the children are 15.1

Almost a quarter of people have remained living with their partner, or knows someone who has, as they could not afford to live separately, says housing charity Shelter.1

Shelter’s Chief Executive, Campbell Robb, says: “We also know that relationship breakup is a major cause of homelessness.”

The UK saw a total cost of family breakdowns in 2012 of £44bn, a rise from 2011’s £42bn, says the Relationships Foundation.1

Sutherland says: “The Government’s austerity policies are making things worse, and it doesn’t make sense economically. What we want is for them to do a relationship and family impact assessment for every policy they consider introducing.1

“[The] shortage of affordable housing in this country is being felt further and further up the income scale,” says Robb. “We’re hearing from couples moving in together too fast to help with housing costs but then unable to move out if things go wrong because they can’t afford to live on their own.

Separated couples can't afford to live apart

Separated couples can’t afford to live apart

“This has a huge impact on people’s home lives.”

Robb also says that the housing crisis is “the result of more and more people chasing fewer and fewer homes, which has pushed up house prices and rents far faster than wages have risen.

“Our research also shows that more and more people are putting off having children because they can’t find an affordable home.

“Something is badly wrong when people who are working hard still face a constant struggle to get a decent place to live.”1

Caroline Davey is the Director of Policy at the charity for single-parent families, Gingerbread. She says that low-to-middle income families are “increasingly struggling financially.”

“When a couple separates, this financial squeeze can make it impossible for them to forge new lives separately.

“With wages stagnating, higher risk of redundancy, spiralling living costs, and many families without any savings to speak of, it can be simply unachievable for a separating couple to afford to run two homes rather than one.

“The only alternative for some families is to continue living in the same home but as separate households.”

Davey continues: “This situation could become more commonplace in future as the financial downturn bites even harder on families across the income scale.

“Action is needed across a number of areas, for example strengthening the role of local authorities in supporting access to private rented accommodation, reversing the harshest housing benefit cuts, and sustained job creation.”1

A spokesperson for the Treasury, says: “The Government has taken action to help people with the cost of living, including freezing council tax and fuel duty and cutting income tax for 25 million people by raising personal allowance.

“Action taken to reduce the deficit has helped to keep interest rates near record lows. And we have extended the offer of 15 hours free education and care a week for disadvantaged two-year-olds, to cover an extra 130,000 children.”1

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/nov/20/trapped-couples-partners-relationships