Funds to stem tide of divorce

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The Independent Online
Almost 50 marriage support organisations around the country were yesterday invited by the Government to come up with "exciting and innovative" ways to stem the tide of divorce.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is calling on groups such as Relate and the Family Welfare Association, to bid for Government funds to further their work. Speaking at the launch of his new initiative, he said there was a need for practical help and support for people preparing for marriage as well as for those whose marriage was already in difficulty.

It was, however, unclear how much money the Government was planning to put into the project. Asked whether pounds 250,000 was about right, Lord Mackay replied: "That is a figure that might well be realistic. On the other hand, it might be more or it might be less."

But Sarah Bowler, chief executive of Relate, said millions of pounds were needed to prevent the collapse of the institution of marriage. Every year, around 195,000 couples petition for divorce.

"It would make all the difference in the world to Relate if our grant in aid was doubled, but that doesn't seem likely," said Mrs Bowler. "At the moment, the Government gives us pounds 1.6m a year, which allows us to train 350-400 counsellors. Altogether, Relate's budget is pounds 12m in the coming year. You can see that the Government aid is minute."

Penny Mansfield, director of One Plus One, another marriage guidance organisation, agreed. "A quarter of a million is a drop in the ocean," she said. "Anything's welcome, but that is a small amount of money. At present the Government is spending pounds 4.5 billion a year on legal aid in divorce, supporting families after divorce and social security costs. Compared with this, pounds 250,000 is nothing."

Research conducted by Lord Mackay's Marriage Task Force, set up last year to assess the current provision of marital support, revealed that the public is ignorant of the range of services available. Many of those who do know about marriage guidance organisations are too embarrassed to come forward.

"There's a certain reticence and this is one area which innovative projects might be able to deal with," said Lord Mackay "It's quite easy to understand that people who are married are not anxious to seek help because it's an admission of failure. I would like them to feel they can come forward without stigma."