My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not criticising the Government’s decision to support child care costs; I am saying that they have got the balance wrong by doing that while not at the same time honouring the coalition commitment for transferable tax allowances for married couples.
I have massive respect for those mothers and fathers who stay at home. I have never stayed at home to work and have always worked outside the home, but many parents do so sacrificially, and many parents in one-earner families, as Department for Work and Pensions figures clearly show, stay at home because they have to. Many have significant child care responsibilities for very young children, or care for sick or disabled relatives. It is interesting that the Government quoted OECD figures in support of its decision last week. Let me quote some OECD figures: the tax burden on a one-earner, married couple family on an average wage in the UK is now 42% greater than the OECD average.
I have raised this issue in respect of every Budget since I have been in this House. Two years ago, having tabled an appropriate amendment to the Finance Bill, I received from my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury a letter that said:
I am writing to about the new clause on transferable personal allowances for married couples that you have tabled for the Finance Bill. I agree entirely that marriage is a positive institution and it is clear from our manifesto that we believe this should be recognised in the tax system.
We are keen to send a clear message that family and marriage matters and that strong and healthy families help create a strong and healthy society. We must do more to support families and the tax system is one way in which this can be achieved…you can rest assured that our commitment to bringing forward these changes remains firm and that we are assessing various options with a range of different costs and will bring forward proposals at the appropriate time.”
I believe that that time is now. If we genuinely believe in choice—a word much trumpeted last week on the announcement of support for child care costs—we should not be making it more difficult for mothers to stay at home but should give them that choice, too. The Prime Minister has said:
“If we are going to get control of public spending in the long term…we should target the causes of higher spending, one of which is family breakdown. We should do far more to recognise the importance of families, commitment and marriage”.—[Hansard, 2 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 429.]
This year, I again call on the Government, at the third time of asking—it sounds a bit like calling the banns of marriage, but that is quite appropriate—to insert a provision into the Finance Bill, this time by way of their own amendment, to introduce transferable allowances for married couples. That is quite simply the right and honourable thing to do.