Bad idea: For better for worse

Only those already doing well are likely to gain from the Tories' marriage plans

“Why is the government anti-marriage?" the Centre for Social Justice's latest paper asks. A better question is: why do Tories keep banging on about promoting it?

The CSJ insists marriage is “in the best interests of society": 70 per cent of offenders have single parents. This, purportedly, is why David Cameron clings so firmly to a pro-marriage tax plan - well, except for a few hours recently.

According to the CSJ, one in 11 married couples break up before their child turns five; it's one in three for couples who cohabit. The conclusion? Marriage "brings stability". But isn't it that stable types are the ones who marry?

To support marriage, the Tories want to offer a financial perk, so that if one spouse stays home, the other can use their tax allowance, taking a bigger wage home. Who stands to benefit? Childless married couples, but not parents who cohabit. If a man breaks up his family and then remarries, he and his new wife benefit; his family don't. And the three million children of single parents - those most likely to fall into criminal behaviour - are left out.

Only married couples able to afford for a partner to stay home would win: in 59 per cent of cases, both work. And the plan would cost up to £4.9bn - money surely better spent even-handedly. But this plan isn't about social good - it's about traditional values. As with inheritance tax, only those already doing well will gain.

This article first appeared in the 18 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Palin Power