Peter Hoskin

Love and marriage?

Love and marriage?
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Ok, I must admit I'm quite wary of Tory plans to encourage marriage via a £20-a-week tax break for married couples.  Not because I don't think marriage is a positive social force.  I do.  And Iain Duncan Smith's usually excellent Centre for Social Justice - who are pushing the tax break proposal, along with other, more convincing, ideas, in their recent Every Family Matters report - has unearthed enough statistics over the years to prove that it is.  But there's something crude and debasing about deploying fiscal incentives to force something which should largely be a private decision, based on sappier motives such as love, between two people.  And, as Philip Collins suggests in an effervescent comment piece for today's Times, there are plenty of reasons to think it just won't work.  Here are some key passages:

"It looks as if the Tories wouldn’t 'recognise' a bad policy when it’s giving £3.2 billion of our money away. This policy would reward a man who leaves his wife and remarries. The widow is greeted by the State for the loss of her husband with the loss of her tax break. Three children growing up in greater need to loving cohabitees get nothing while the Duke and Duchess of El Dorado pop down the post office to pick up their £20.

And imagine that your objective was to increase the divorce rate. I can think of no more forensic policy than to take the set of current cohabitees and make them get married. This bunch of flaky no-hopers all of a sudden commits for life because of the power of the vows and the promise of a few quid? Oh, come on.

And what about those people for whom divorce is a good idea? Before we make a fetish out of family life, a word needs to be said for all those women and children who grow up in appalling families in which the departure of an abusive husband and father comes as a blessed relief. The big problem with Every Family Matters is that it’s not true."

At the very least, the Tories need to provide convincing answers to the problems Collins, among others, raises.  If they can't, then they ought to think whether this it's worth depleting  the public finances for this policy at a time of massive fiscal uncertainty.

UPDATE:
Fraser responds here, and I respond to his response here.