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A £20-a-week reward for marriage is a lot of money if your disposable income is £87-a-week

BARRIE: MARRIAGE Since the Centre for Social Justice published its latest paper - earlier this week - on marriage there have been a number of commentators (eg Philip Collins of The Times and Bagehot) who have said that they wouldn't get married for £20 a week.

It's such a misrepresentation of Tory thinking.

A few quick reactions:

  • The Blairites who have led the attack on Tory thinking need to do some soul searching about their own time in office.  The deepest forms of poverty have got worse under Labour - mainly because Labour policy was indifferent to the relationship structures around children.
  • There is something special about marriage despite what its critics suggest.  Parental separation is much more common among cohabiting parents than married parents.  European statistics show that 8% of married parents, compared to 43% of unmarried parents, split up before their child’s fifth birthday. Another study controlled for income and social characteristics, found the marriage effect is such that even the poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples.  There is probably some truth to the suggestion that people intrinsically more likely to pursue stable relationships are those that choose to get married but there's also truth to the idea that getting marriage encourages stability.  There's a process of others investing in the relationship - including, crucially, more support from another extended family.  If society provides more relationship counselling and financial support the process of getting married becomes even more important.  Writing four years ago in The Times Mary Ann Sieghart (no IDS-style conservative) explained why marriage is so very different for exactly the same people than cohabitation.  Read her full column here.
  • It's simply not true to say that the Tory approach to marriage is all about tax.  Monday's report from the Centre for Social Justice alone made more than 130 proposals aimed at improving the quality of family life and family law. Only one of these proposals addressed the effect of tax and benefits on marriage.  Maria Miller MP has set out some of the other Tory ideas to help the family in this Platform piece.
  • It's okay for wealthy journalists to think that £20-a-week doesn't matter when £20 is the average price of their main course in a swanky Westminster restaurant.  £20-a-week (or more than £1,000 per year) is a lot of money for a poor family when, as Fraser Nelson pointed out, the poorest 10% of Britons have a disposable income of just £87-a-week. There is evidence that financial consequences affect the decision to marry or openly cohabit in the first place. Married couples, quite simply, cannot pretend to claim as two individuals.
  • Recognition of marriage in the tax and/or benefits system is not some strange Tory idea but nearly every European country recognises marriage in the tax system.  That fact as well as legal recognitions and other cultural factors may explain why Britain is at the bottom of the European league for family stability.
  • The British public overwhelmingly supports the aspiration to marriage.  Three quarters of under-35s in cohabiting relationships retain marriage as an ideal.  85% of the general population supported giving extra financial incentives to married couples though the tax systems as a way of promoting marriage.  Just as we reward the socially useful desire to save and study we should honour the socially useful aspiration to marry.
  • The Conservative Party (Tim Yeo and one or two others excepted) is remarkably united on this subject.  93% of the next generation of Conservative candidates support a recognition of marriage in the tax system.

 Tim Montgomerie


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