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Tom Richmond, a columnist for Tory Radio, questions the value of marriage incentives without being coupled with divorce disincentives.

"My family, and my marriage, are the most important things in my
life" said David Cameron, when interviewed about the Social Justice Report
produced by Iain Duncan Smith and his policy group.  His personal touch to
politics makes David Cameron seem almost human by political standards and
despite a few grumbles from some media commentators, the report has been
greeted with open arms in many quarters.  The best Gordon Brown has come
up with is to tell his Ministers not to talk about marriage – hardly the fighting
spirit we expected.

The proposals from Iain Duncan Smith have been carefully worded and given a
gentle tone so that David Cameron can weave in his own ideas and stake his
claim as the future Prime Minister who cares about the family.  Not only
does David Cameron stand to gain from popular initiatives, the tax and benefits
system is an excellent route through which he can make more progress in setting
out the themes, such as social responsibility, that he continually refers
to.  Having a range of policy ideas for different areas of government that
all share a common theme will do his credibility the world of good.

Did the Social Justice Policy Group provide Gordon Brown with another chance
to score political points over the Conservatives?  The positive reaction
from the media and public suggests not.  There is little fertile ground
for political debate, as few politicians would be brave or stupid enough
to withhold support for marriage and stable families, although there are still
a few holes in the rhetoric which deserve some exploration.  Even the
modest tax allowance of £20 per married couple would cost billions every
year.  Whilst economic cost is no reason to turn away from the proposals,
the Conservative Party must bear in mind that we could inherit a national debt
running into the hundreds of billions by the time the next election comes round
and it will take a superb financial rescue mission to steady the ship, let
alone find new funds.  Having said this, if one takes the proposals from
the Social Justice Report as a whole it is clear that savings will be made
elsewhere in the tax and benefits system, such as toughening the rules on job
seekers allowance, and this will go some way to bridging the financial
gap.

Even though Iain Duncan Smith has put together an excellent package for
repairing our ‘broken’ society, the logic behind changes to the financial
implications of marriage is questionable.  A stable, loving household is
without doubt the best environment in which children can grow up.
However, offering financial incentives for couples to marry is playing with
fire.  If you are a young couple looking to build a long-term relationship
but not wishing to commit to marriage, you will now lose out.  Given the
suggested changes to the tax system, there would now be a plain and simple
motive for couples to tie the knot.  This may not sound disastrous, but
how would this system of incentives make people more likely to stay together in
the long run?  Offering tax breaks to married couples sends out the right
message, but without changing the divorce laws at the same time he risks
increasing the number of marriages that ultimately break down because people
could be unduly influenced by the financial implications of marriage rather
than the desire to form a life-long bond and provide a suitable environment for
raising a child.  If there is no significant penalty for divorce (which
there isn’t – you can still get a divorce if you just live apart for two
years), why would people not get married?

Providing new incentives for marriage with no disincentives to make people
appreciate the serious implications of divorce for their children is not the
right approach to promoting stable and caring life-long relationships.
David Cameron must view Iain Duncan Smith’s policy group findings on marriage
as a small piece of a very large and very complicated puzzle.  More people
getting married solves nothing in itself and gets us no closer to mending our broken society.  The next Conservative government should make marriage
the most financially beneficial form of relationship to encourage us to build
strong family units, but leaving the embarrassingly weak divorce laws in place
will draw more people into marriages that were not meant to be, and could lead
to even more families falling apart – and this is an outcome that British
society cannot afford to face.

20 comments for: Tom Richmond: The drawbacks of financial rewards for marriage

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