I welcome the many good things in the Budget, but I want to focus on one omission. The Prime Minister and the coalition have suggested that marriage should be recognised in the tax system, but yet another Budget has not recognised it. Other countries across the OECD have recognised it, but Great Britain has not. That point has to be underlined. The Prime Minister was right to commit to bringing us back into line with international best practice, and the benefits of marriage to individuals, families and society are considerable and plain to see, yet the Government have again singularly failed to deliver.
The greater benefits of marriage reach out beyond the family structure, leading to stronger and more cohesive communities. The Relationships Foundation has shown that the cost of family failure has increased to a staggering £44 billion, which means that failed relationships across the United Kingdom cost the taxpayer £1,470 each per year. In that context, the Government should be doing all they can to support family stability, and that is best secured by supporting marriage. They should be encouraging and supporting marriage and the bond of commitment, not making it harder to marry in this country than across the rest of the OECD. Again, the Government have failed to address that issue.
In recent years, the Government have said repeatedly that they back recognising marriage in the tax system, but the reality is very different. It was a headline commitment in both the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement. If that is not enough, public support for a transferable allowance is plain. A 2012 YouGov poll showed that 70% of people who expressed an opinion supported a tax allowance for married couples. So why the inaction?
“Recognition of marriage in the tax system will require HMRC to make various operational changes, particularly in the IT systems. Can he reassure us that this preparatory work is already under way so that when the Government bring forward legislation to recognise marriage in the tax system there is no further delay? If he cannot do so tonight, will he make it an urgent priority to make a statement to the House setting out the time that will be required to change the IT systems and announce that he has instructed that work to begin in readiness for the introduction of the transferable allowance legislation?”—[Hansard, 3 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 880.]
This issue is even more pressing today because, unlike the last Budget, this Budget is quite possibly the last opportunity the Government will have to introduce the necessary Budget resolution if transferable allowances are to be up and running by the next election. If they take more than 12 months and the Government wait until the 2014 Budget, that means there will almost certainly be no transferable allowance in place at the next election. That would be tragic. I very much hope that the Minister will be good enough to answer the question today and explain either that the process will take significantly less than 12 months, so that the system can be introduced at the Budget and fully implemented within the time frame of the coalition agreement—that is, before May 2015—or that the Government will amend the Finance Bill so that the IT changes can start now.
People feel alienated when manifestos are not delivered on and promises are not kept. It is not too late to put it right tonight.