There’s an excellent letter in today’s Times from Harry Benson which neatly rebuts Alan Johnson’s attack on David Cameron for the Conservative leader’s support for marriage:

"[Alan Johnson’s] non-argument — that not all marriages are brilliant and not all other family arrangements are doomed — is obviously true, in the same way that not all smokers die of cancer."

Spot on, Harry.  Some people who smoke live to a ripe old age and some single parents succeed against the odds but you make it harder for yourself if you choose to smoke or if you end up as a lone parent.  Harry Benson is one of the great battlers for the family in Britain today.  His work in Bristol with engaged couples and with the families of prisoners is award-winning and sacrificial.  Another hero of the pro-family movement is Jill Kirby.  Her work at the Centre for Policy Studies has laid many of the foundations for the pro-marriage position that the Conservative Party has adopted.  Jill Kirby has written for today’s Daily Express – defending David Cameron from Alan Johnson’s attacks. 

Jill uses her article to rebut the idea that tax incentives for marriage don’t matter (and we’re back on the subject of tobacco!):

"Alan Johnson, like many of his colleagues, says that people won’t be more likely to marry just because there is a tax break available. But he belongs to a Government that uses tax incentives to alter people’s behaviour in almost every other area of life. Tax is kept lower on unleaded fuel to make motorists choose environmentally friendly petrol. Hefty duties on cigarettes are meant to deter us from smoking. So why does the Government think that people will ignore the financial implications of getting married? A few thousand pounds a year could make all the difference, especially on a low income."

And the fact is – as Jill Kirby continues – the current tax system is unfair to married couples:

"Brown claimed that his tax credit system would provide incentives for work and get children out of poverty.  But the credits are structured in such a way that they provide the biggest income top-ups to lone mothers who are either unemployed or working part-time. If those mothers get married or even move in with their boyfriends, their credits will be heavily cut. Tax credits paid to couples do not recognise the needs of the second adult, and so couples bringing up children on a low wage will be much more likely to be left in poverty by the system than lone parents. A man with a wife and young children will have to work much longer hours than a lone parent to reach a similar standard of living. All this means that poorer couples, for whom income top-ups are important, do much better by keeping their relationship “unofficial.”  Getting married means that you can’t keep your relationship under wraps, so married couples get the worst deal of all."

A lot of the debate about marriage and the tax-and-benefits system is very ill-informed.  There is a debate to be had about whether marriage should enjoy financial benefits but that debate is for the future.  Today’s debate should be about the hefty penalties that fall on the shoulders of married couples.