Ministers decided not to force through plans to cut benefits to hundreds of polygamous families in the UK after officials advised that the move would be too politically sensitive.
Internal documents obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal that ministers from four departments ordered an “urgent review” of the position of up to 1,000 men with “multiple wives”, amid complaints that they were claiming millions in benefits.
However, the Government decided against altering the status of polygamous families after it was warned that it could contravene human rights legislation – and officials assured that the benefits system was geared to ensure there was “no financial advantage to claiming for those in polygamous marriages”.
Details of the response to the complaints came after the Tory frontbencher Baroness Warsi accused politicians of failing to deal with the issue because of “cultural sensitivity”. The Muslim peer urged the Government to consider the mandatory registration of all religious marriages to stop men in Britain from marrying more than one woman.
Four departments embarked on the review in 2006 following a parliamentary question on the benefits payable to polygamous families. Ministers were told that, before 1988, benefit was paid to anyone who could establish they were in polygamous relationships, but “this was narrowed to polygamous marriage following press interest in people in hippie communes living off the state”.
Britain recognises polygamous marriages from countries where such unions are legal, although a man is prevented from bringing another wife into this country if a woman is already living as his wife in the UK.