Two years ago this month, Coronavirus hit our country and forced us into lockdown. We were trapped in our homes without the care and support of friends or family. Older people couldn’t leave their homes to go shopping. And newborn babies went months without meeting their grandparents.

But like with so many other aspects of the pandemic, Covid shone a light on the damage that had already been done to our social fabric. Many older people had to turn to their neighbours for help with their shopping during the dark days of the pandemic, because their families were living on the other side of the country.

A new report by Onward shows how families have been drifting apart for decades. In the last 20 years, the proportion of older parents who live within 15 minutes of their adult children has fallen by 16%. Our unbalanced economic geography and 30 years of university-focused education policy has pulled more and more young people away from their families and friends and towards the bright lights of cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester.

These centrifugal tugs are having a real impact on older age care, with many people struggling without family nearby to support them. People living within 30 minutes from their elderly parents are five times more likely to give them a lift to the doctors, three times more likely to help with the shopping, and twice as likely to bring them home cooked meals. As their children increasingly move further away it becomes harder for elderly parents to live their lives independently of the state, putting greater pressure on our creaking social care sector.

The state should not turn a blind eye to this problem. Human connections, particularly those within the family, are the key building blocks of a happy well-adjusted society. Just as the government’s Marriage Allowance recognises the importance of family through the tax system, so too should ministers champion the importance of intergenerational links and family care.

Many other countries do this. Singapore offers a £11,000 Proximity Housing Grant to encourage adult children to live within 4 kilometres of their parents. In Japan, cities like Tokyo prioritise housing for those seeking to live close to their parents and big businesses like Panasonic lend their workers money for care-related renovations to make it easier for them to have their elderly parents move in. South Korea offers income tax reliefs for adult children living with their elderly parents.

The best way to support intergenerational family care in the UK would be through a new “Family Care Relief” for people who buy a home within 10 miles of their elderly parents. This could be delivered in a number of ways, from an interest-free housing loan worth £10,000 or a tax rebate on income or property taxes. However it is delivered, it would make it easier for those who want to live closer to their parents and support them in their twilight years.

At a time when the Exchequer is under increasing pressure, it is understandable that some may be reluctant to spend money on ambitious proposals such as this. But given that the ONS valued informal care in the UK at over £64 billion, if a Family Care Relief increased informal family based care by just 5%, it could save the Treasury over £3 billion a year by reducing care burdens on the NHS.

But putting the government balance sheet to one side, there are more important reasons for such a relief. Two years on from the beginning of the pandemic, which has done so much to keep families apart, we need policies that can support people to reconnect with their loved ones and bring fulfillment back to people’s lives. You can’t put a price on that.

Luke Stanley is a senior researcher at Onward, leading its Social Fabric programme.