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A Manifesto to Strengthen Families - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP 5:04 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this important debate. I will endeavour to stick within the strictures of the time limits.

The social science evidence is very clear that the greatest driver of family breakdown is relational instability and the greatest antidote to this instability is marriage. Let us consider the following benefits for children associated with having married parents: three-quarters of family breakdown where there are children under five comes from the separation of non-married parents; children are 60% more likely to have contact with separated fathers if the parents are married; the prevalence of mental health issues among children of cohabiting parents is more than 75% higher than among those of married parents, and children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders, accounting for some 70% of all young offenders.

We should recognise that making the marriage commitment is a key driver for stability, quite apart from wealth. Crucially, even the poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples. In this context, I want to argue that there is a powerful imperative for doing more to recognise the value of marriage through the marriage allowance.

At the moment, the contribution of a non-earning spouse, who may be working full time looking after young children or caring for elderly relatives, receives only the most derisory recognition. They are allowed to boost household income by transferring just 10% of their personal allowance to their working spouse. Put another way, the Government currently refuse to recognise 90% of their personal allowance in any way even though the work that they do is of high value.

The case for change is further compounded by the fact that, during the tax year 2015-16, the Government spent more money on supporting marriage through the much more generous married couple’s allowance than through the new marriage allowance. Noble Lords will recall that the married couple’s allowance applies to married couples where one or both spouses was born before 6 April 1935, while the new marriage allowance applies to one-earner married couples on basic income tax. The former can reduce a tax bill from between £326 and £844.50 a year; the latter can do so by only up to £230 per year. Although it is important to recognise the public policy benefits of marriage for couples in their 80s and 90s, it seems very odd that we should afford these marriages greater recognition than those whose public policy benefits have a broader reach, impacting both adults and children.

As the Chancellor considers his upcoming Budget, I urge him to introduce a fully transferable allowance and would happily tell the Government to pay for it if necessary.