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Cameron is not for turning on marriage tax breaks

A few observations on the party's family policy before I get to the small problem that Cameron must address:

  1. Family breakdown is not just a private matter but one of Britain's biggest social problems.  Governments can't and shouldn't stop unhappy relationships ending but more can be done to help relationships work.  Research for the Centre for Social Justice found that if you are not brought up in a two-parent family you are: 75% more likely to fail at school; 70% more likely to be a drug addict; 50% more likely to have an alcohol problem; 40% more likely to have serious debt problems; and 35% more likely to experience unemployment/welfare dependency. That makes the family an issue for taxpayers.
  2. Tackling family breakdown will be a generational and multi-pronged effort.  Conservatives aren't one club golfers when it comes to family policy.  Cameron's frontbench have outlined measures to end the couple penalty in the benefits system; provide more health visitors for new parents; invest in relationship education services; reconnect grandparents with children; consider a cooling off period in divorce proceedings; and so on.
  3. There will be a recognition of marriage in the tax system if the Conservatives win the General Election. On Monday Cameron used the word "definitely" for the "next Parliament".
  4. A recognition of marriage in the tax system can vary widely in cost. A full transferable tax allowance for all married couples (including civil partners) would cost over £3bn but a transferable tax allowance for married couples with children under three years old would cost just £600m. That would also fit with one of Cameron's preferred themes - intervention in the earliest years.
  5. Governments have always used the tax system to recognise positive aspirations.  Governments recognise saving, learning and starting up a business, for example, because they build a stronger nation. Most young people still aspire to marriage and given the social benefits of marriage it makes sense to recognise that aspiration too.
  6. Britain is unusual in not having a recognition of marriage in the tax system. David Willetts has pointed out that only Mexico and Turkey are as indifferent to marriage as our country.
  7. The policy is hugely popular with the Tory grassroots and the influential Daily Mail.  A plurality of the public support it in most polls. And don't assume that single parents, for example, oppose a pro-marriage family.  I've never met a lone parent who wanted the same demanding lifestyle for their own children.

The outstanding problem is the opposition to the policy of a very few key advisers to David Cameron.  Danny Finkelstein reports today that one "Cameron ally" regards the marriage tax break as “crazy, retro and instrumentalist”. Danny writes that George Osborne holds a "detached scepticism" towards the policy (but does not oppose it). Cameron, who has believed in the policy from day one of his leadership bid (and probably long before), must lay down the law with these advisers; insist that the pledge will be honoured; and that noises off will not be tolerated.  It may just be that this week's kerfuffle will solidify a policy that has been unsettled for too long.

Tim Montgomerie


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