David Blackburn

Love and marriage

Love and marriage
Text settings

It’s all a bit of a puzzle. How will David Cameron incentivise marriage? In an interview with the Mail, Cameron dismisses IDS’s transferable tax allowance scheme. “It would be wrong to say that they are Conservative Party proposals.”


Considering the scheme will cost £4.9bn, the pro-cuts Tories can ill-afford an incentive that would benefit the middle class in the immediate term. Cameron and Osborne are searching for a cheaper way to honour the pledge.

Pete and Fraser debated whether marriage should and could be financially incentivised. On balance I side with Pete, marriage should not be financially incentivised. I’ve nothing to add to Pete’s analysis except that I doubt tax changes behaviour markedly. Arguing from the other side of the coin, green taxes and extortionate booze duty have not stopped people making those choices. Besides, who is to say that a couple who endure each other for the sake of £20 a week will bring up their children any better than if they had separated?

However, the Tories are correct to assert that marriage, both in its civil and religious forms, provides society’s strongest form of social organisation. With a peculiar strain of cultural relativism, opponents of marriage point to ‘social trends’ and that it is perverse to resist apparently ineluctable changing family structure. In a characteristically well constructed, lucidly written but conclusively wrong article, Will Straw makes such a case, and supports it with this graph.

The decline of marriage should be resisted because it has come at tremendous cost to individuals and society.  I do not traduce single parents, co-habiting parents or divorcees, plenty of whom succeed against the odds; but that's the point: the statistics suggest that divisive failure is more common. IDS’s research indicated that nearly half of co-habiting couples in Britain split up before their child's first birthday; just 1 in 12 married couples do the same.  Equally, recent research by YouGov found that children brought up in lone parent families are:

75% more likely to fail at school

70% more likely to be a drug addict

50% more likely to have an alcohol problem

35% more likely to experience unemployment / welfare dependency

And, as this graph illustrates, marriage’s decline inaugurated a single parent and co-habiting parent baby boom.

Recent trends not only signal instability; they perpetuate it. To my mind, the answer is not to incentivise marriage, but disincentivise single parenthood and divorce in the future, by uprooting the benefit system.