"Gay couples in a civil partnership should get the same tax benefits as married heterosexuals, the leader of the Conservative Party will announce today... The move is expected to rile the more traditional members of the Party."
That's the view of PinkNews.co.uk. I'm not so sure. I'm probably one of the "more traditional members of the Party" and I am not at all riled at the prospect of gay couples getting the same benefits. I remember talking with Daniel Finkelstein, when I was at CCO and he was head of policy, saying I'd happily see 'the gay vote' get almost all it wanted tomorrow if we could also get a government that was serious about supporting marriage. Since that conversation Parliament has devoted a lot of time to gay rights issues. I think of the abolition of Section 28, adoption rights for gay couples and the Civil Partnership Bill. This is all settled law and the Conservative Party's acceptance of this has boosted its standing in the gay community. Over these Labour years, however, little has been done to help marriage despite the massive role that married families play in raising children, caring for the elderly and knitting communities together.
I was looking for signs in David Cameron's speech to the National Family and Parenting Institute that he was determined to help the vast majority of young people who sill aspire to marriage (Download pdf). The Tory leader certainly emphasised the empirical case for marriage:
"More and more of the evidence that’s coming in shows that the institution of marriage has a good record in terms of delivering a stable family background. This is not about preaching. It’s not about religion. It’s about the evidence of what works. Our Social Justice Policy Group is investigating families and family breakdown in depth, and it recently produced a ‘state of the nation’ report drawing the evidence together. Within five years of the birth of a child, 8% of married couples split up, compared to 52% of cohabitees and 25% of those who marry after birth. Overall, the 1999 Hart report for the then Lord Chancellor’s Department estimated the annual costs of family breakdown at £5 billion. Other estimates have put the figure as much as five times higher. But whatever the financial cost, there’s no doubting the emotional and social cost of family breakdown."
My overall reaction to the speech was that it didn't tell us much about Tory family policy. It contained something for everyone and almost nothing bankable. There were, for example, hints of tax allowances for marriage and tax relief on childcare for working parents. For a party that is reticent about lowering taxation it would be a big deal to deliver meaningful tax incentives for married couples and for childcare. If it comes down to a choice between cutting tax on married couples or giving tax relief on childcare for working people I hope that the party will choose the former. "Tax relief on childcare for working parents" is not going to help mums to have a free choice between going out to work or staying at home. It's also regressive as it helps wealthier people already in employment. Tax relief for married couples (and gay couples) who are caring for children or another dependent relative would be more in tune with David Cameron's leadership election pledge and his commitment to social justice.