Straw launches family helpline after criticism of tax reforms

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The Independent Online
A NATIONAL telephone helpline for parents was launched by the Government yesterday as part of a drive to improve family life after religious groups criticised the scrapping of the married couple's allowance.

The criticisms, published yesterday by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, were submitted in response to a government consultation document, Supporting Families. To accompany publication, Mr Straw announced 30 pro-family initiatives that will be given a share of pounds 1m in public grants, including ParentLine, an advice service for worried parents.

According to the religious organisations, the abolition of the married couple's allowance had "sent the wrong message" to society. A Christian charity, Care, said in its submission: "The [allowance] is the only recognition of marriage in the income tax system, and, through its removal, the message that taxpayers receive is that the Government does not value marriage."

There were also complaints over plans to allow baby- naming ceremonies to be conducted by registrars. Register offices said they did not have the space for such events.

Commenting on the results of the consultation document, Mr Straw said that, despite the criticisms, responses as a whole showed widespread public support for the Government's proposals to strengthen family life.

Mr Straw agreed that scrapping the married couple's allowance had been "contro- versial", but said it was not the Government's role to be "preachy or prescriptive about how people should live their lives". He added: "Families come in all shapes and sizes."

The Government will replace the allowance next April with a children's tax credit, designed to help families in greatest need.

The response document shows that Mr Staw has received support from the United Reformed Church, which wrote: "We are not persuaded in principle that there should be a married person's tax allowance ... since it derives from a very different era and does not necessarily strengthen contemporary marriage."

But the Jewish Marriage Council said: "Unless the [allowance] is replaced by other fiscal indications of the importance of marriage, there will be increased ambivalence and confusion of the real message government wishes to give."

Dorit Braun, chief executive of ParentLine, said a team of 200 volunteers would be staffing the new telephone service. As part of its staff training, ParentLine has conducted extensive research with children and young people, canvassing their views on where parents are going wrong.

Ms Braun said children felt that parents rarely took account of their opinions. "We need constantly to understand the world from the perspective of children and young people if we are really going to support parents and others working with children to do their best," she said.

ParentLine is on freephone 0808 800 2222.