When it comes to difficult questions like sex, affairs and divorce, our culture’s preferred response is to avoid answering them altogether on the grounds that it’s not our place to judge. These are individual, personal decisions, made between consenting adults, and they don’t affect anyone else. Right?
Well, not exactly.
Let’s put to one side the obvious emotional impacts – on partners, who are disproportionately likely to suffer from depression; on children, who are more likely to run into problems at school, drink, and get into trouble as a result; on grandparents, who frequently lose all contact with their grandchildren after a separation. A company that implicitly promotes divorce isn’t going to win any prizes for their ethics, but business is business.
What people don’t tend to recognise is that it’s bad business – financially, let alone morally. There are enormous costs associated with broken relationships. These costs hit the individuals who separate, they hit the taxpayer, and they hit businesses themselves.
A study by Norwich Union (now Aviva) in 2006 found that couples who divorced spent an average of £28,000 when their marriage ended. No one wants to part with that kind of money – especially not under current economic conditions.
Then there’s society collectively. One report from the Relationships Foundation[ calculated that the cost to the taxpayer of relationships breakdown is around £42 billion – in tax credits and lone parent benefits, housing, and then the health, crime and educational impacts. £42 billion is £1,364 per taxpayer.
And then there are businesses themselves. People who divorce or separate get stressed and depressed. They take time off work, or more often they go to work but are unproductive (‘presenteeism’). In this alone divorce costs the UK economy around £20 billion a year. Another estimate suggests that absenteeism and presenteeism cost an estimated £5,000 for every full-time employee who divorces. The costs aren’t borne by the individual, or the taxpayer – they’re borne by the business they work for.
Joined up thinking, anyone?