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Time to revive the idea of a tax break for married couples

By Tim Montgomerie
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I don't want to get into another big debate on gay marriage today. While I accept that the issue is unpopular with a large number of big C and little c conservatives the evidence is that most of the public are in favour of the change. I also remain of the view that Conservatives should be encouraging commitment wherever it exists. I also believe that in ten or twenty years' time - perhaps much sooner - it will be a settled and uncontroversial issue and the Conservative Party shouldn't risk being on the wrong side of history.

The point of this blog, however, isn't to go over old ground but to remind ourselves of the context in which David Cameron made his commitment to gay marriage - back in 2006, long before we were in bed with the Liberal Democrats. That context was the party's commitment to introduce a recognition of marriage into the tax system - a commitment that was made by David Cameron when he was campaigning for the party leadership. I'm sure he believes in gay marriage as a matter of principle but by promising to extend a married tax break to same-sex couples he was also attempting to increase the acceptance of this tax reform.

Unfortunately we seem to have forgotten the tax break promise while still advocating equal marriage. That's a shame...

  • The Centre for Social Justice has shown that a targeted tax allowance (because it disproportionately favours single earner couples) is more pro-poor than taking the low-paid out of income tax.
  • All of the opinion polling evidence is that a married tax break commands the support of most voters - particularly voters likely to vote.
  • Nearly every other developed country in the world has a recognition of marriage in their tax systems and, perhaps, no conicidence they have less family breakdown.
  • Finally there is provision in the Coalition Agreement for this policy. The provision allows the Lib Dems to abstain on the issue and for the measure to be carried on the back of Tory MPs.

If Cameron is looking for a socially-just, popular and distinctively Conservative policy success he should order George Osborne to revive this one.

I suggest conservatives and Christians should also focus on the promotion of marriage in the tax system (and in other ways) rather than devoting so much energy to a cause, like gay marriage, which they'll ultimately lose.


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