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David Willetts insists that marriage must not become the preserve of a middle class elite

WILLETTS DAVID NW Today's Guardian splashes with an interview with David Willetts, in which he expresses his fear that marriage is in danger of becoming an exclusively middle-class institution unless action is taken to bolster it. He says:

"The aspiration of marriage is becoming harder to achieve. Instead of it becoming just what you do in your 20s, it has become like scaling Mount Everest, a sort of great moral endeavour – and something that requires a lot of time and money. We think we need to ease some of the pressures.

"There is quite a lot of evidence coming from America about how we are in danger of heading towards a society where middle-class people get married and people on low and erratic incomes don't get married, and that in turn leads to a divergence of a whole host of other outcomes.

"In my view it would be extremely dangerous if marriage became something only for the affluent elite and that is what will happen, unless we try to get some kind of policy that restores it as a more widespread institution as we had in the past."

He said that the current rate of family break-up was "a disaster for children", although according to the report:

"Owing to budgetary pressures it was unlikely that recognition of marriage in the tax system would appear in the Tories' first budget, but it was important to establish the principle, he said."

The paper reports that the party's forthcoming green paper on the issue will propose:

  • Home nurse visits for new families with greater emphasis on help for the father;
  • Relationship guidance at the time of a civil marriage similar to that given by a vicar, hopefully spreading the model of the Bristol community family trust that provides relationship courses to 30% of new mothers in the city;
  • After a couple split, fathers should be given access to tax credits if they are looking after the child more frequently than the mother;
  • Grandparents should be automatically considered for placements if both parents are not deemed suitable to bring up the children, with grandparents also to be considered for access to the child following a divorce.
  • Children's school reports should be sent to fathers as well as mothers in cases of breakdown.

Read the full interview here.

Jonathan Isaby


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