Clause 11 — Tax relief for married couples and civil partners

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 9th April 2014.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 2:15 pm, 9th April 2014

Absolutely. It sends out a very poor message to those people for Labour to say that marriage is very nice, but we will not recognise it in the tax and benefit system.

Frankly, it is those who oppose this measure—we have heard them again today—as some sort of 1950s throwback who are being judgmental about how certain people choose to live in their relationships. Disgracefully, they are seeking to pit working mothers and dads against stay-at-home mothers and dads, who are no less, and often more, hard-working. That certainly applies to the increasing number of stay-at-home dads who have made a conscious decision to give up a career because they think that is how they can best bring up their children. The state should respect that.

My support for a transferable married couple’s tax allowance has never been based on a moral stance on types of relationship. My concern, as one might expect from someone who formerly had responsibility in government for children, has always been based on what is best for children. That is why I favour the allowance for families with young children.

Quite simply, if a 15-year-old is living at home with both parents, there is a 97% likelihood that their parents will be married. There is a one in 10 chance that married parents will split up by the time their child reaches five, but a one in three chance that unmarried, cohabiting parents will split up by that time. As the Centre for Social Justice has shown, those who do not grow up in two-parent, married families are 75% more likely to fail at school and 70% more likely to be involved with drugs or to have alcohol problems. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which I have already quoted, has identified poorer outcomes for children from separating families. Importantly, a stable home can raise a child’s chances of escaping the poverty trap by 82%. Let us not forget that family breakdown, the prevention of which is the thrust behind this measure, is costing us £46 billion. That is about £1,460 for every taxpayer in this country every year. Marriage accounts for 54% of births but only 20% of break-ups among families with children under the age of five.

I am therefore surprised that nowhere in any of the contributions from Labour Members in support of the amendment did they touch on the outcome for children. That is the most important target at which the measure is aimed. The poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples, as my hon. Friend Mr Jackson said.

Clause 11 alone will not solve all the problems I have set out. I am not naive enough to suggest that £210, or whatever the result is, will represent the difference between staying married and getting divorced or between getting married and cohabiting. However, it does send out the clear and strong message that we value couples who take the decision to bring up their children within marriage. There is a need to address the lack of a level playing field in bringing up children between couples who are not married and those who are. There are 2.2 million households in which one partner is in full-time work and the other is not earning. Those households include 1.2 million children and 700,000 of them include a youngest child who is under the age of five. Those are the families we should start with. Those are the families who deserve our support and recognition most of all. This clause, at last, goes some way towards rectifying that.