This Tory tax break won't help married couples

Money is rarely sufficient to hold a couple together when the going gets tough

Share
Related Topics

Like many people in their early thirties, I’ve spent almost every weekend over the last few summers (and several in winter too) at a wedding. Although I got married last year, I’ve been a little surprised at just how many of my friends want to sign up to what is probably Britain’s oldest institution. It’s proof of our enduring desire to form stable relationships in which to offer love and mutual support, and raise children.

David Cameron wants to show that the state recognises the choices of me and my friends by offering tax breaks to married couples. The prime minister is right to want to support strong relationships, but his plan offers no practical help to sustain the relationships of my married friends, despite growing pressures on family life in Britain. Nor will it support young couples who don’t yet feel secure enough to get married.

It’s hard to imagine anyone getting married because of a financial reward, particularly one as small as the Conservatives are proposing – less than £4 a week at most. And most married couples won’t benefit because they are both working. But having to the pay the state to get married doesn’t help. Scrapping marriage notice fees (currently £70 a couple) would show that government wants to make it easier for couples to wed, as a new report from IPPR’s Condition of Britain programme proposes. Financial security is a vital precursor to marriage. Sorting out Britain’s housing market so that sustainable homeownership is once again a realistic prospect for young people would give couples the confidence to marry earlier.

In the years ahead, the everyday pressures of family life mean that many of my married friends will need help to sustain their relationships, but a tax break would offer little support. Most family arguments are about time and money, so lifting family incomes is vital – but by supporting two-earner families not encouraging one partner to stay at home. Better paid leave would allow new mums and dads to spend time with their young children without worrying about the hit to the family budget. Most dads want to have a bigger role at home to share the joys and burdens of being a parent – better paid paternity leave and help for working dads to spend less time at the office should be a priority.

When couples find their relationship under real strain, counselling and practical advice will be much more useful than a tax break. A future government could guarantee that less affluent couples can always access relationship support, through local charities or specialist therapists, while also making sure that families facing relationship breakdown get help to make it as painless as possible.  Informal support from grandparents, friends and neighbours keeps many families going - allowing parents who have returned to work to transfer part of their leave to a grandparent would help to secure the contribution of extended families. Expanding affordable childcare is vital for families with young children but we also need to harness the informal support networks in children’s centres and nurseries that can help parents cope with problems at home.

Helping people fulfil their aspiration to get married and stay together doesn’t mean privileging this kind of relationship over others, or undermining people not in a relationship. In fact, the things that really help sustain marriages also help cohabiting couples to stay together. As Labour looks to the next phase of its policy review, it should reflect on how it will demonstrate its commitment to the anchors of family life, including marriage. That means helping cohabiting couples achieve the financial security they need to get married, coupled with practical support for relationships and families in all their diversity – not a pointless tax break.

Kayte Lawton is leading the Condition of Britain programme at IPPR

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before